jeudi 7 mars 2013

Canada and Bilingualism - Part 1

For a lot of people Canada evokes thoughts of bilingualism, tolerance and politeness. Many people think that everyone in Canada speaks both official languages, French and English.

I do think Canadians are tolerant and polite; bilingual, euh... not so much.

My Alberta birth certificate. Photo by Den Nation.

I was born in Alberta but grew up in Ottawa. My father was working temporarily in Calgary at the time of my birth. I only spent the first 2 months of my life in Alberta so Calgary is just another Canadian city for me. I feel like I was born in Ottawa, but my birth certificate reminds me that I was not.

I am Canadian. My country is officially bilingual. Trudeau, Canada's prime minister during the 70s, really pushed bilingualism in Canada. The issue wasn't really about getting everyone to speak both languages, but Trudeau recognized that not all Canadian citizens are bilingual and that everyone had the right to access services in their own language when dealing with officialdom, aka the Canadian government. In doing so, he pushed more Canadians to be bilingual (as it is really difficult to obtain a position as a civil servant in Ottawa without being bilingual).

So how is it that I can't get my birth certificate in French and English? Alberta as a province is not officially bilingual, that's why. Birth certificates are issued by the provinces and territories, not the federal government in Ottawa.

If you look at my picture above, it does appear to be in both languages. What you are looking at is the template, which is in both languages. The information specific to the person in question only appears in English. Why, if their template is in both languages, can't they also insert my personal details in both languages?

I wrote to the Alberta government about this. Their response? "The province of Alberta is not required to provide access or reports in both of Canada's official languages."

How can this be? I just can't believe that I can't access official documents like my birth certificate in both languages. How come the federal government has not forced the provincial and territorial governments to do so? We are talking about my birth certificate, an official document.

I was so angry when I got this response from the Alberta government. I have to admit, I am so disappointed by "my province", and that I come from such a close-minded and right-winged province (so now you all know about my political beliefs).

I used to think when I was a little girl that it was cool to have been born in Alberta. I used to go around saying to everyone, "I was born in Calgary, I'm a cowgirl!" Hahahahaha. I can't believe I was so proud.

I can't believe that hate groups against bilingualism exist. Just check out and a couple of their other videos to get an idea of their stance.

Of course, these people are a hate group and most Canadians are not as extreme as them. The speaker in the video for the above link seems to think they represent the average Canadian, but they do not. (I hope I won't start receiving emails from these people now.)

So while I am proud that my country set up bilingual services, I just wish that the provinces would follow as well. Don't just start something and only do it halfway.

8 commentaires:

  1. I think it's cool that you were born in Alberta :-) The birth certificate is cool too. Mark's birth certificate in Ontario has less security features it seems.

    I can't believe the hate against bilingualism (fortunately it's the exception, not the norm!). To me, it's like asking to have your left arm cut off "cause you know, I don't need it, I mostly use my right arm!". Yeah and so what? Two arms are better than one, no, and you could learn new tricks with your left arm!

  2. I shouldn't be so hard on Alberta. Probably some of the other provinces have the same policy themselves. I don't want to be full of hatred towards Alberta like this anti-bilingualism group on YouTube. It's just that this is an issue that really concerns me and once I am fired up, bam!

    Yes, Alberta changed their birth certificate a few years ago in order to implement new security features. I think they did a great job with it. I'm impatiently waiting the updated security features of the new Canadian passports.

    I do understand that people don't speak both languages in Canada and I think that it is normal that not everyone speaks French. Realistically, you are not going to get much practice speaking French in BC. You would probably be better off learning Chinese or Japanese out there. I don't understand, however, the attitude and scorn towards learning the other language and bilingualism in Canada. Knowing another language enrichens your life; there are so many positive reasons to learn another language!

  3. Hi, it's me again. When I was at the U of Ottawa, I had in my class a girl from Alberta. She spoke perfect French, and even took some courses in French at uni, I asked her how come she speaks so well, and she said her high school encouraged the students to be bilingual. She might be a minority... As for me, having lived mainly in Québec, I would never had any documents in both languages, only in French. There's even a law that forbids kids to go to English school, until they reach Cégep.

    When I moved to Ottawa, I never had problems being served in both languages. When I left, Harper just got elected and I think bilinguism wasn't a priority no more, because it is another spending for the government.

    Here's a post I wrote about bilinguism :

    I wish I would be perfectly bilingual, but I'm still stuggling with my English. I live near Belgium and they have a hard time dealing with bilinguism too. The younger generation (Flanders), don't speak French. And the Wallons don't want to speak Dutch.

  4. Well, it's true that the France language is dying in Canada. I looked up the stats on Statistics Canada website a few years ago. I grew up hearing from my anglophone entourage in Ottawa, "French is everywhere, they're going to take over". I had no idea that the reality was actually the opposite of what my anglophone community thought. According to Statistics Canada the number of native French speakers in Canada (including Québec) is declining (very slowly, but nonetheless) each year. That's why Québec has its own immigration policy. This is really worrying.

    I'm glad that you met an anglophone that spoke excellent French. My high school offered French immersion, but I remember that a lot (definitely not all) of the people that graduated from the French immersion programme were not proficient in French upon graduation. After spending 1 semester as an exchange student in France my French was better than their French was! I couldn't believe it.

    You're doing fine, don't worry about it. At least you're writing in French! You express yourself clearly in English; I can understand what you are saying. I have thought about writing in French, but actually I think that I really need to practice writing in English.

  5. I'm from NS currently living in France. When we got the new birth certificate (similar to the one in the picture), everything for everyone is finally written in French and English. Before that, I was faced with the same answer as you from Alberta "Nova Scotia isn't an officially bilingual province, so we don't have to give you anything in French".

    I personally think that bilingualism is a richness, however, it is difficult to convince some people that the government should spend money on promoting both languages when they don't know anyone who speaks the other language. I mean, growing up, French was a distant foreign thing that really had no place in our daily lives (except in French class and maybe in the morning when you accidentally looked at the other side of the cereal box). It's hard to motivate people to care when there is no practical application. I know lots of people who don't hate bilingualism, having nothing against French, but aren't going to spend time learning the language because they have no reason to speak it. In my opinion, motivation is key to learning a language, so how can we motivate people?

  6. I think that want bothers me the most is people's contempt for the French language. Growing up in Ottawa you see/hear a lot of this if you are part of the anglophone community. I imagine that in Nova Scotia it is less of an issue?

    I wish that some people in Canada would realise the richness that learning another language would bring them. Canada is a multi-cultural country after all.

    I can understand not having the time or aptitude for learning a language, though. A lot of people are more technically minded than linguistically talented. I just hate this attitude, this contempt, this scorn some people in Canada have towards the French language and Québec. I can accept people not learning another language but not the hatred towards it.

    Where do you live in France and are you thinking of starting a blog?

    Thanks for reading, by the way!

  7. It's funny when I tell people I'm from Canada and they ask me if I speak French. I really think that only like 5% of the Canadian population speaks Quebequois because even Quebec has a massive anglophone population. I did learn French in school (and forgot everything) and packaging is in English and French but I think it's a huge misconception that Canada is a bilingual country. And there is nothing wrong with the French it's just that I think for people touring Canada, it is wise for them to know that French probably won't be of any use. It's just a common sense thing that should be known if you want to travel. The other thing about the French language is that it is not a very useful language as it is really only spoken in one other large country (besides the French islands) unless you plan on traveling to France, it's of no use. The only other thing that bothers me about the "bilingualism of Canada is that in Quebec, the bilingual laws do not really apply and therefore road signs and packaging are solely in French. Why the separation? I always say that when I have children, I'll hire a Mandarin nanny because Chinese will be truly useful in the coming years (as reiterated in my recent trip to china). P.s. I do speak French but because I moved to France and I do love the French language in and of itself. P.p.s. thank you for all you recent comments on my blog (yummy laura)'s so appreciated and I love that you write about topics like these that actually spark important dialogue.

  8. People in France assume that I am from Québec when I am introduced to new people. Sometimes they look at me with a puzzled look and ask me why I don't have the accent. They almost always expect the québécois accent and when they don't get it, they are baffled.

    I agree that Asian languages are more useful across Canada than French. I think that learning Japanese or Chinese would definitely be more beneficial to someone in Vancouver than learning French.

    I guess I'm just annoyed that the government has put into all this effort and time into offering services in English and French but they can't even offer me a simple birth certificate in French.

    I do understand why Québec is so strict with their language. Like I said in another comment, I looked at statistics on the Statistics Canada website a few years ago and the amount of native French speakers in Québec is slowly decreasing due to lower birth rates and they don't have enough immigrants to fill the gap. So the French language is actually dying in Canada. I was really surprised to hear that, since while I was growing up I always heard comments about how "they" were going to take over Canada. It's actually the English language that is, albeit slowly, taking over Québec.

    This attitude really bothers me. I grew up in Ottawa so French is really important. This is the reality of living in Ottawa. The French speakers are not taking over, it's just the anglophones' bad attitudes that have taken over. I can understand somebody not having the time or the interest in learning French, but anglophones shouldn't accuse the French speakers of stealing "their jobs". The French speakers definitely have to learn English to work in Ottawa while an anglophone can still get into the government with only English, so things are not equal. Thus I am even more inclined to accept that they only want to have signs written in French. Please remember (please don't get angry at what I have written) that I grew up in Ottawa where there is a lot of talk about bilingualism and tensions between the two sides. So where I grew up is reflected in my writing.

    I'm glad that you liked this topic and I hope to write more like this, but to be honest I am a bit afraid of hate mail. I don't really want to fight with people on my blog, because let's face it, I feel really strongly about certain issues, maybe too much so.