Canada is a beautiful country to live in and is generally loved and admired around the world. We are known for our geographical beauty, cold winters and our diverse population. We are also credited for being a bilingual nation with French and English as our two main languages.
Our cereal boxes, coffee cans, car manuals, camera instructions, etc. are all written in both French and English.
Even if you call a major government centre they answer the phone, ‘Bonjour, hello’ or give you the option of pressing one for English and two for French. French is prevalent everywhere in Canada and yet according to 2001 Statistics Canada only 17.7 per cent of Canadians can speak both languages, 67.5 per cent of Canadians only speak English with 13.3 per cent of the Canadian population speaking only French.
In Alberta, 92 per cent of the population speak only English and 2.2 per cent speak French only. The percentage of bilingual Albertans in the province is 6.9 per cent.
The 2001 Census showed that there are 65,995 (2.2 per cent) Albertans whose mother tongue is French.
Although the population of French speaking people in Alberta is somewhat low the province is being met with a new breakthrough involving French language rights.
In the winter of 2003 Gilles Caron, a francophone truck driver, was given a ticket for $54 for making an unsafe left turn. Caron requested that his hearing be in French and was denied because of a 1988 provincial law that revoked French language rights in Alberta. The judge ruled that this law was unconstitutional and said that Caron was not guilty of the traffic offence. The case was viewed as a victory for francophones because the constitutionally protected language rights of French-speaking Albertans were recognized.
The crown prosecutor won a three month stay of the decision, so the government can decide what to do next. It is expected that the case will be appealed and the hope is that it will reach the Supreme Court. This case suggests that the laws, written only in English, might be invalid and could potentially force Alberta to translate all the laws into French and make services available in both official languages.
What does this mean for Albertan French and non-French? It means that much time and millions of dollars will be spent on translating legislation but positively acknowledging and distinguishing the French language.
Although there have been some negative attitudes to Quebec following the referendums of 1980 and 1995 where the votes to separate from Canada were painfully close, the French language should still be important to the country and province.
Quebec is rich with history and culture and recently Quebec City celebrated its 400th birthday on July 3. Founded in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain Quebec City really marks what Canada has become today.
The founding of Quebec City unfolded into a great Quebec nation and brought a strong Canadian country and this heritage belongs to all Canadians.
Canada was born on two languages and the national diversity and culture is part of what keeps Canada flourishing today. It defines Canada and should be recognized in each province.
The vibrant language and culture provides another attractive dynamic to Alberta and the French language rights should be recognized in the province but not forced upon the Albertans.
Because Canada’s population is so diverse and the country prides itself on being a mosaic nation that accepts and allows all cultures, religions and languages, other languages in Canada should be accepted and commended as well.
This doesn’t mean changing all legislations to every different language but celebrating these languages and providing the necessary translators or tools to aid the people who speak a different language with what they need in order to be understood.
With recognizing these rights Canada and Alberta can look ahead to our shared future with assurance and confidence.
Canada should unite in embracing all languages and recognize French in order to live up to the international expectations for being rich in bilingualism and culture and show our national ‘joie de vivre’ to the world.