Canada was originally divided into Upper and Lower Canada. This division was based upon linguistics and culture and to this day, there continues to be a lack of harmony between Anglophones and Francophonie. Amidst all of this tension, Quebec has been very adamant about persevering French culture. Education in Canada is under provincial control and this has allowed the Quebec government to ensure that the majority of the students receive a French language education.
The population of Quebec is declining and the province has created the most liberal social benefits to encourage childbirth. This includes a largely government funded day care system, as well as a bonus to each woman that gives birth to a child. Even with these wonderful social benefits, Quebec is particularly dependent upon immigration to retain its population density.
New immigrants to Quebec are not necessarily invested in the maintenance of either the French language or culture. This is further problematized by the fact that English has become the universal language of commerce. Parents wishing to ensure that their children are able to compete for jobs globally have been spring-boarding their children into English schools. Seven years ago, Bill 104 was specifically designed to disallow those attending private English institutions for a few years from claiming Anglophone status and entering English public schools in Quebec.
This issue came to a head when a number of families decided to raise a Charter challenge, questioning the provinces’ right to restrict their child’s education. Just as in all of the other provinces, there have always been schools catering to both languages in Quebec; the difference lies with the strict enforcement on who is eligible to attend which school. In Nguyen vs. Quebec, it was successfully argued that the restriction of private English language schools imposed upon minority language rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Bill 104 was ruled unconstitutional.
Each case will now have to be evaluated individually, which further supports the legitimacy of private English schools in Quebec. The Quebec government is not pleased with this decision and has come to view it as yet another legally imposed oppression by Anglophones. French language rights were specifically written into the Charter because of its minority status and any infringement is understood to be a denial of the uniqueness of French culture.
Education is provincially mandated, thus allowing the provinces which have a largely Anglophone citizenry to limit the teaching of the French language. Canada is officially a bilingual country, but this purposeful oversight does not promote bilingualism or unity. French is largely taught as a subject, but without at least partial immersion,it is unlikely that any fluency will be achieved, thus maintaining French as a minority language. Even with special rights written into law, the status as a minority within a largely Anglophone country means that French culture and language are permanently challenged.
If both languages were to be taught equally in schools from J/K to grade 12, within a generation, the position of French as a minority language would be significantly reduced. We have shown obvious pride in bilingualism, yet the government and the Supreme Court, have failed to enact a specific system to ensure that this is indeed a part of the larger culture. There are many benefits to bilingualism, as is exampled by the number of Europeans who speak multiple languages. The failure to normalize bilingualism in Canada is the result of generations of animosity between Francophonie and Anglophones.
English-speaking Canada has shown much joy at the recent Supreme Court decision. What people refuse to acknowledge is that a reduction in French language rights means a reduction of the very diversity that we claim to treasure. Canada is the nation it is because of the participation of all of its citizens and no one group should have the right to question the existence or worth of another. The ambivalence toward language is just one of the various ways in which a concrete understanding of what a uniquely Canadian identity is continues to elude us.
Slurs against the French culture and people are common everyday occurrences and though they mark a clear form of bigotry, they’re openly tolerated as part of our culture. The issue of the French/English divide in Canada will never be resolved until a majority of the citizens speak both languages with a high level of fluency. Unlike divisions like race, class ability, sexuality, or gender, the solution to the imbalance is easy.
That we have not taken serious steps as a nation to heal this fracture is a reflection of the desire of Anglophones to maintain their undeserved privilege. “My Canada includes Quebec” must become more than a clever slogan to increase unity. It must become a purposeful part of Canadian identity if we are to build upon the achievements of previous generations. Je me souviens doit vivre au coeur de tous les Canadiens.