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I would like to offer a warm welcome to our witnesses and to inform them that they will have a total of seven and a half minutes for their opening remarks, which will be followed by a period of questions from members of the committee.
I am in the habit of using a yellow card to indicate that you have one minute left. When I wave the red card, that means that your speaking time is over.
Our witnesses this afternoon are, from the Association des juristes d'expression française du Nouveau-Brunswick, Érik Labelle Eastaugh, Professor and Director of the International Observatory for Language Rights, Faculty of Law, Université de Moncton, and, from Impératif français, Jean-Paul Perreault, President, who is accompanied by François Côté, Lawyer.
Mr. Labelle Eastaugh, you have the floor for seven and a half minutes.
Mr. Chair, honourable members of the committee, first, I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to address you as part of your important work on the future of language rights in Canada.
I also want to say I'm glad to see that all of you have turned on your cameras. This is quite different from the courses I have been giving since the pandemic started.
Given my occupation, my comments will address legal aspects of the subjects taken up by the committee pursuant to its motion of November 24, 2020. I propose to address briefly the following three themes: first, the respective constitutional roles of the federal government and the provinces in linguistic matters; second, the relationship between the principle of equality in Canadian law and the concept of asymmetry; and, third, the approach Parliament should take to regulating federal works, undertakings or businesses.
First, language as an area of jurisdiction falls within the purviews of both the federal and provincial governments. Each order of government has the power to legislate on language matters that are ancillary to its areas of jurisdiction.
In addition, the Constitution imposes on some governments, both federal and provincial, specific duties to protect the French language. Accordingly, language planning is not and cannot be the responsibility of a single level of government. To wit, subsection 16(3) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms encourages Parliament and the provincial legislatures to pass legislation to advance equality of English and French in Canadian society.
The principle of equality of the official languages, including its relationship with the concept of asymmetry, is a frequently recurring issue in recent debates on the modernization of the Official Languages Act. In this regard, I believe some clarifications are in order.
First, no one can deny that English and French are asymmetrical from a sociological standpoint. The enormous appeal of English, stemming partly from its large number of speakers, means that francophone communities—whether they are a minority or majority within a province—must make a much greater effort than anglophone communities to maintain their vitality and develop in their language. This sociological difference leads some to claim that the equality principle enshrined in the Charter and the Official Languages Act puts French at a disadvantage rather than supporting it. They say this principle requires the two languages to be treated equally. This view is mistaken.
It is worth remembering that the official languages system was established in order to strengthen French and protect francophones, who were severely disadvantaged. English needs no law to protect it. While the Official Languages Act is based on the principle of equality between English and French, its very existence is the result and evidence of a recognition that English and French are unequal.
The principle of linguistic equality, as defined by the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism and as recognized by the courts, is designed to give francophone communities the capacity to maintain their vitality and develop despite the sociological asymmetry that exists. It is thus a "substantive" rather than "formal" equality principle. Unlike formal equality, substantive equality requires the government to account for the asymmetries between the two linguistic communities and sometimes apply different standards.
Indeed, the case law on language rights consistently takes into account the sociological asymmetry between English and French. Let me give you some examples. In the Ford decision, which concerns the signage requirements of Quebec's Charter of the French Language, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized that French is under threat and that the Quebec government has a special role to play in protecting it.
Furthermore, the cases dealing with section 23 of the Charter, including Solski, which concerned bridging schools, show that this provision must be interpreted in light of the specific context of each linguistic community. In fact, section 23 applies to Quebec asymmetrically because of an explicit exception in the Constitution Act, 1982. As a result, if Parliament wishes to take additional measures to protect and promote French as a vulnerable language, it can do so within the current system, without breaching its fundamental principles.
For months now, the debate surrounding the promotion of French has been fuelled by the idea that Parliament should pass legislation bringing federal works, undertakings or businesses located in Quebec under the Charter of the French Language. However, since the purpose of such legislation would be to guarantee francophone workers the right to work in their language without facing discrimination and to guarantee the public the right to be served in French, it is neither necessary nor desirable to abandon the current framework. Parliament could easily achieve this outcome by making federal works, undertakings or businesses subject to the Official Languages Act. By contrast, an approach based on the Charter of the French Language would have significant drawbacks.
First, such an approach would apply only to Quebec. Consequently, Parliament would be straying significantly from the federal government's basic linguistic duties. When the official languages system was set up, a "territorial" model—such as that used in Switzerland—in which language rights would vary from province to province, was explicitly rejected. Instead, a "mixed" model was adopted, in which the same rights are granted to francophones across the country, subject to a numerical criterion at the local level. Following this principle, it would be difficult to justify legislation that grants rights to francophones in Montreal but not to those in Moncton or Sudbury.
Second, legislation that draws directly from the wording of the Charter of the French Language, which includes some bills introduced in the past, could contravene subsection 16(1) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter of the French Language is based on the principle of the primacy of French, and the wording of the rights it confers reflects that principle. Federal legislation that reprises that structure could be challenged under section 16 of the Charter, as it would give rights to French that it does not give to English.
On the other hand, parts IV and V of the Official Languages Act grant essentially the same rights to francophones as the Charter of the French Language, but without creating a hierarchy between English and French. With that in mind, the Association des juristes d'expression française du Nouveau-Brunswick welcomes the proposals that Minister Joly recently made in this regard. However, we will have to examine the resulting bill before reaching a final position.
With that, I thank you once again for the opportunity to appear before you.
I would be happy to take your questions.
Good afternoon, everyone.
I will be speaking since Mr. Perreault, the president of Impératif français, seems to be having technical issues. He will probably join us later.
Good afternoon, Mr. Chair, members of the distinguished committee and citizens of Quebec watching these live or recorded proceedings.
It is an honour for me to appear before this parliamentary committee. Special thanks and a nod as well to Impératif français and its president, Mr. Perreault.
I am going to present three simple, clear and detailed legislative proposals. We believe that they are entirely feasible from a legal standpoint and that the federal government could adopt them as a tangible contribution to stemming the decline of the French language in Quebec in its areas of jurisdiction. All it would take—could this be too big a price to pay?—is the political will to take real action to that end.
The recommendations and legislative proposals that we are submitting to the federal government are set forth in detail in the 60-page brief we submitted to the House of Commons on February 5. Appended thereto are detailed proposals and amendments to the legislative model that the government could readily enact.
We have chosen to focus our recommendations on three specific points. In our view, they are of the utmost importance and do not prejudice the many other language issues involving the Government of Quebec within the federation. They have all evolved…
All our proposals have evolved from a common core idea: that the individualistic symmetrical equality model of bilingualism long and currently advocated by the federal government merely proclaims an artificial and superficial equality whose actual usefulness to Quebec is debatable in that it absolutely fails to protect the collective language rights of the Quebec nation in respect of its sole common language, French.
In our view, the equality of status and equal rights model in place at the federal level, under which English and French are treated equally, is merely the equality of La Fontaine's iron pot and clay pot in a North American context.
We believe it is time to undo that dysfunctional model and to adopt an asymmetrical and territorial bilingualism approach whereby, in a collective perspective broader than individual claims alone, the French language would be granted distinct, reinforced and special protection to reflect the North American reality and the fact that the language question is not merely an individual one in Quebec. It is a societal issue that calls for the permanent retention of a strong francophone majority within the population of Quebec, a condition associated with the very existence of the Quebec nation. History has shown that this is true, and contemporary reality still does so today.
That being said, our three proposals are as follows.
First, we suggest that the Charter of the French Language be extended to apply to private businesses under federal jurisdiction. The idea would be to extend the Charter fully to embrace private businesses under federal jurisdiction so that Quebec workers employed by those businesses may finally enjoy the same rights as the millions of their counterparts who are already protected by that act in the rest of Quebec's private sector.
In tangible terms, we propose two ways to achieve that end. The first would simply be for Ottawa to allow the National Assembly of Quebec to proceed with this extension on its own, which would be entirely feasible from a constitutional standpoint under the constitutional double aspect doctrine, which was recognized and clarified in the Canadian Western Bank judgment. The federal government could also proceed on its own, and, for that purpose, we would suggest that it amend the Canada Labour Code by adding a provision incorporating by reference the provisions of the Charter of the French Language so that the Code retains the Charter's operative legislative intent.
It is our firm view that, on this specific issue, an amendment to the Official Languages Act would probably be a bad idea. The OLA is a public act, designed to regulate the public service and services to citizens far more so than private-sector labour relations. Remodeling it in that way could cause problems of legislative consistency. Furthermore, extending it, even if only to expand current federal language policy in this field, would not solve the problem but rather conceal it under a legislative veil. What is really necessary is a comprehensive and detailed regime that has proven itself and functions smoothly, a regime such as that of the Charter of the French Language, which would also come with decades of instruction, jurisprudence and legal stability.
Furthermore, in this matter—and we support the territorial approach here—the National Assembly is clearly much closer than Ottawa to the reality of businesses in Quebec and, in our view, is the most legitimate political, legislative and democratic partner in the federation to address these kinds of issues.
Our second proposal would be to amend the Official Languages Act to establish a special regime to protect the French language in Quebec and in Canada's national capital region, given its undeniable importance to the federation. Our second proposal thus submitted would be to amend the Official Languages Act to include a detailed protection regime for the language rights of public servants in Quebec and in the federal capital to fully work and communicate in French in the workplace, based on sections 45 and 46 of the Charter of the French Language, thus precluding all forms of linguistic pressure or discrimination in hiring and employment.
We propose here to adopt, not only the spirit of the Charter of the French Language, and to transpose it to the federal level, but also the legal regime and court access rights that it entails—adapted to the federal context, but along the same lines—to guarantee genuine and effective language rights for federal public servants using French in Quebec, more than 44% of whom are revealed by the recent reports of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages as suffering from linguistic insecurity in the workplace in a culture that is transitioning to English. Once again, the Charter of the French Language appears to be the ideal model to combat this situation.
I'll speed up a little but will then be happy to answer your questions.
Our third and final proposal will be to revisit the constitutional issue and to suggest a return to the initial version of the Charter of the French Language as an official statute. The time has come to turn the page on the Supreme Court's judgment in Blaikey, a decision it rendered more than 40 years ago in a different constitutional context from the present one, having since evolved to enable Quebec to establish French as the sole official language of its legislation.
A strange situation prevails in Canada: under section 133 of the Constitution Act, 1867, Quebec alone is subject to a legislative bilingualism obligation, whereas, just next door, Ontario may publish its statutes in its official language, English, and translate them into French. We are merely seeking equality, a symbolic change that would have a powerful effect on generational renewal and immigration.
Lastly, a brief word simply to provide context for my remarks. Our comments focus solely on the situation of Quebec, without prejudice to francophones outside Quebec. We share their concerns but here are focusing solely on Quebec.
I'll skip my brief introduction.
This is interesting because, this time, we're hearing testimony from two individuals and two, at times, contradictory versions.
I'm turning to you, Mr. Labelle Eastaugh, to ask you a question. So you acknowledge that there's a sociological asymmetry and that this proves that the current version of the act hasn't achieved its objectives.
Exactly how do you propose to build recognition for that actual asymmetry?
I'll put the same question to Mr. Côté.
I'll be more specific, Mr. Labelle Eastaugh.
The Standing Committee on Official Languages has always scrutinized the fate of francophone minorities outside Quebec. Based on our current reading, however, we realize that there's a minority that we have neglected for decades. That's the Quebec minority, Quebec, the French Canadian heart of North America as a whole. I thought you would have proposals to make on the subject, and that's the context in which I asked my question.
Mr. Côté, people say that we shouldn't change the act, that everything's fine and that there's a symmetry. You, on the other hand, advocate an asymmetrical approach. How should we go about that?
You've made some proposals for Quebec, but I'd like to hear what you have to say about how we could take that turn and expand the scope of the Official Languages Act to include what I would call the Quebec francophone minority in North America as a whole.
All right. In that case, my questions will be for Mr. Côté x
Considering my surname, where I'm from and my accent, you can probably guess that I'm one of those francophones outside Quebec who unfortunately has had more than 400 years' experience struggling against assimilation and the decline of the language of Antonine Maillet.
Yvon Barrière, the first vice-president for the Quebec region of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, appeared here two days ago. He told us a story about what you and I were discussing that I'd like to pass on to you.
Mr. Barrière sat on a committee of a dozen or so senior federal public servants, all but one of whom were francophones, Quebecers for the most part, or French speakers, including the committee chair. Simultaneous interpretation service was proactively offered for those meetings, and all the elements necessary to honour language rights were in place. Mr. Barrière said that he suddenly realized at one of the meetings that everyone was speaking English, despite the simultaneous interpretation service. As it turned out, since all the francophones were speaking English, the interpreters had to interpret their comments into their mother tongue, rather than the other way around.
I've experienced that as well. However, the circumstances the witness described were striking: since all the participants were francophone, with the exception of a single unilingual anglophone, they were under no obligation to speak English.
How do you explain that phenomenon?
Mr. Côté, you made the following statement: the federal government's language policy derives from an individualistic and symmetrical conception based on portable individual rights, as it were, whereas Bill 101 is based more on a territorial model. In other words, an asymmetrical model would result in a more efficient administration of the act.
Allow me to explain that in my own way. With respect to language planning, we can see that no minority languages are assimilated into the majority language in any country, such as Switzerland and Belgium, that has a more territorial model of bilingualism. The contrary is true in Canada, where the minority language is being assimilated. In fact, minority languages are being assimilated in every country in the world that has a system based on individual and symmetrical bilingualism, as in Canada.
Is that consistent with what you're thinking?
I would say yes, absolutely.
International studies have even been done on the use of official languages. Here's an interesting example. In the international organizations, when several official languages are declared equal and are left to each person's individual choice, the result is that English systematically dominates. That's the case at the United Nations and the Council of Europe, where English is used as much as 70% of the time, which is also particularly ironic now that the United Kingdom has left the European Union.
The idea of declaring an individualistic equality of choice of language always benefits English. It's unavoidable, at least in North America.
So I absolutely agree with your interpretation of the situation. It's partly for that reason that the territorial model must be favoured. The federal legislator would therefore do very well to draw from its Quebec counterpart and adopt at least the spirit, if not the text, of the Charter of the French Language. Measures are needed to provide genuine protection for the collective right to use French in federal businesses and the public service, not to mention our constitutional law.
I can't comment on measures that the minister will ultimately propose. We can get a vague idea from reading public news releases, but we're waiting to see the content of those measures, as it were.
As for specific measures that should be adopted, I want to go back once again to the Charter of the French Language. Sections 45 and 46 offer effective and efficient protection for the genuine right to work and communicate in French in the workplace, without prejudice to English, of course. Differentiated and special protection for Quebec based on those provisions would be entirely appropriate.
In the brief that we submitted, we propose a legislative amendment that would consist of three clauses. The idea is simply to take the regime of the Charter of the French Language and integrate it into the Official Languages Act in order to regulate the federal public service and offer effective remedies, which is to say the possibility of litigation, instead of simply complaining to the Commissioner of Official Languages.
We really need to draw on a model that has been in place for more than 40 years, has proven itself and can carry real weight in the courts, and that's the Charter of the French Language. The federal government would do well to draw from it if it genuinely seeks to protect the language rights of its employees who work in Quebec and in the federal capital.
Thanks to the witnesses, Mr. Labelle Eastaugh and Mr. Côté, for being with us today. It's much appreciated.
I'll begin with you, Mr. Côté.
All last week, the Liberals and Minister Joly communicated extensively about a possible modernization of the Official Languages Act. We were expecting a bill, but what we got instead was a working paper that will bring forth a committee, which will bring forth a recommendation. And yet the Liberals have been in power for five years. The act hasn't been amended for nearly 30 years.
Do you view this approach as a kind of last-minute electoral manoeuvre by a minority government aware that none of its proposals will be adopted?
Yes, that's absolutely correct. We think it's a purely dilatory tactic designed to buy time so it can push back the introduction of a bill or the release of a white paper.
By the way, a professor at the Université de Moncton whose name escapes me has tracked the number of times since the first Trudeau government that the Liberals have discussed making amendments to the Official Languages Act: it's more than 150. The government talks about it, but does nothing. In my opinion, continuing to discuss it, conducting studies and proposing white papers are dilatory tactics enabling them, with their fine-sounding words, to postpone the matter until after the election.
Incidentally, I'm very pleased that you asked me that question because it's an opportunity for me to tell all the members of this committee and, more broadly, the House that it will be essential that all the political parties in Ottawa clarify their official positions and offer specific proposals before the election. It is absolutely out of the question that they postpone that until afterward. They have to stop trying to buy time.
As you know, we in the NDP have always been in favour of granting the same language rights to individuals working in Quebec businesses under federal jurisdiction. This is a demand that we support. The situation is absurd: you have certain rights if you work for Mouvement Desjardins, notably the right to communicate and work in French, but you don't have those same rights if you work for the Royal Bank. It clearly makes no sense.
On the other hand, Mr. Côté, I'm quite surprised to see you're not really concerned about the rights of francophones outside Quebec. Perhaps they're in your blind spot or you're less sensitive to them. However, it seems to me you should show some solidarity.
I'd like to speak to Mr. Labelle Eastaugh on the subject.
You said we could show some consistency by granting the same rights, such as the right to communicate with one's employer and to work in French, using federal tools. I'd like you to explain that to us a little further.
Thank you, Mr. Boulerice.
I'll relate this to a matter I'm involved in. When I put on my lawyer's hat, I'm part of the team that represents Andrée Dionne, a Quebec public servant who worked for the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions for 20 years and who is currently defending his right to work in French before the Federal Court of Appeal.
We noticed in his case that the Treasury Board Secretariat and the Department of Justice long ago adopted a very narrow interpretation of the rights that are conferred by part V of the Official Languages Act, which concerns language of work. This problem was also highlighted by former Supreme Court Justice Michel Bastarache. Public servants' rights are robust, but they aren't implemented because the government interprets them too narrowly.
One of the measures I would propose, if Parliament wanted to take action in this regard, would be to amend the wording of the act to clarify current obligations respecting language of work. I believe that those obligations, if correctly interpreted, would be enough to protect the rights that Impératif français is claiming.
I'd like to share my speaking time with Mr. Dalton.
I'm going to expand upon my NDP colleague's comments on the importance assigned to the French language.
Mr. Côté, as you put it so well, we need to respect the French language and stop using this subject to tug at people's heartstrings only during pre-election periods. Indeed, it's important for every party to clarify its position.
My view is that Canadians will know what to do about the French language in the first 100 days of the Conservative Party leader's term of office. Official languages and language minorities are important in Quebec and elsewhere in Canada.
You spoke about a symmetrical system for official languages. Here, we're in a federal forum with representation for several territories. The Quebec government administers the French language within the province of Quebec, whereas our study is on government measures to protect and promote the French language in Quebec and Canada.
I would therefore ask you to be more receptive and not to see things only from the Quebec perspective in seeking a solution. Let's stop putting French and English in opposition to one another and work together to promote French. I'm more interested in promoting a language than in isolating it by being content with solidarity in a small area. I prefer the bigger picture and extending the French language across Canada.
I'd like to hear your opinion on this, Mr. Côté.
Thank you for your question.
In fact, I share your broader approach.
In response also to Mr. Boulerice's earlier question, I would say that if we focused our study and our proposals on the Quebec situation, it was simply because it fit into the framework of our intellectual research project. We are definitely not opposed to the idea of extending the measures we are proposing beyond Quebec. The truth is that New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Manitoba could take a cue from the measures we are proposing in our brief. They would be applicable in Quebec for all areas of federal jurisdiction. Indeed, there is absolutely nothing to prevent the federal government from applying analogous measures in other provinces. We are in a federation, not a unitary state. In a federation, the provincial distinctions within each of the provincial states deserve differentiated treatment.
We are recommending differentiated treatment for the territory of Quebec, the seat of the francophonie and the only province in which francophones are in the majority. However, there is absolutely nothing to prevent the federal government from extending such measures outward to also protect francophones outside Quebec. If this were to be the case, we would be very pleased. There would be no opposition from us.
I apologize. My computer crashed. I had to reboot and get back in.
It's good to see everyone again.
I think my question would be directed at Mr. Labelle Eastaugh.
Two of the members of this committee are from Manitoba, which I have said many times to this committee has a very vibrant and historic francophone community which, of course, has been there for centuries.
There is evidence that French is in decline in western Canada. Across western Canada there is a shortage of French teachers and a shortage of spots for being educated in the French language. This compromises communities' constitutional right to education in the minority language. Communities are having to resort to the courts to assert their rights.
I wonder if you might expand on your reading of the white paper released by not too long ago, and whether you see an improvement in that vein, where communities do not have to resort to the courts. What advice might you have to keep us out of the courts for these communities to realize their constitutional rights?
One comment that is positive in relation to the white paper is that the government, for the first time, is clearly and openly recognizing the importance of institutions to the survival and development of minority language communities in Canada. That's a point that minorities have been litigating in the courts for 40 years, and it's a welcome development to see the federal government commit to supporting it.
In the future, if there is any hope of reversing the trends that you noted in your comments, it is going to have to go through a substantial investment in developing minority community institutions, which are the spaces within which a language lives. If it doesn't have those spaces, the language will simply die out.
With respect to keeping out of the courts, I would say that governments could start by implementing their obligations in the spirit of generosity, rather than adopting the restrictive interpretations that their departments of justice pose to them.
I would recommend that if Parliament wants to help communities avoid that kind of a problem, it could try to minimize ambiguity in the law and legislate clear obligations when it comes to developing minority community institutions, although I realize that's a challenge because you want the obligations imposed to be adaptable from one context to another.
You might also consider reversing the burden of proof when it comes to the judicial process in litigating language rights issues. Right now, if somebody thinks that their rights have been violated under the act, they file a complaint, and the commissioner prepares a report, but then if they feel they need to turn to the courts to solve the issue because the institution is refusing to comply, they then have to build the case in Federal Court.
One thing you might consider is creating a reversal where, if there is a report from the commissioner concluding that there has been a breach, it is up to the institution to challenge that finding in court rather than individual citizens, who often don't have a lot of means with which to do so.
One of the proposals we've been hearing about is to amend the Official Languages Act to meet Quebec's demands. It's important to understand that the territorial model Quebec is trying to implement is designed to make French the common language in the workplace, the common language in the province, and the language of newcomers. However, this is not the objective of the Official Languages Act, which instead offers a free choice and guarantees a form of bilingualism. This proposal is impossible in the rest of Canada, where francophones really are in the minority.
The reason why preference should be given to the intent of Bill 101 rather than bilingualism, is that its goal is to make French the common language. By promoting bilingualism, the message sent to newcomers is that they don't need to learn French to integrate into our society, because they can do so equally well through English.
What are your thoughts on this, Mr. Côté?
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
We've certainly seen that the witnesses today are presenting different visions. That's okay, and only to be expected. But I'm glad to see that our two witnesses agree on one thing, and that is the asymmetrical status of the two languages. I believe that it's interesting, and that we should be able to put it to good use in this study in connection with the forthcoming report.
Mr. Labelle Eastaugh, we recently looked at the minister's proposals and working paper. They deal with the language rights of francophone workers outside Quebec, but with due regard to concentrations of francophones, that vary in size from region to region. Some people find this worrisome.
Mr. Arseneault, I recently met some francophone Acadian artists from New Brunswick who did not want New Brunswick to be divided up into small regions, because the rights of francophones would become unequal.
Mr. Labelle Eastaugh, you spoke about federal criteria. What could be proposed to ensure that francophone workers in minority language communities have their rights complied with to the greatest extent possible?
We have another group of witnesses waiting for the second hour, and we need to do some sound tests. Unfortunately, we have to manage our time carefully.
Mr. Labelle Eastaugh and Mr. Côté, On behalf of the members of the standing committee on official languages, I would like to thank you sincerely for your evidence. It's important for the study that we are conducting.
And thanks to you too, Mr. Perreault, even though we didn't get to hear you.
I'd like to remind you that x Mr. Labelle Eastaugh is the Director of the International Observatory for Language Rights, and a Professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Moncton. He is also a member of the Association des juristes d'expression française du Nouveau-Brunswick.
Mr. Côtéx, who is representing Impératif français, spoke to us in the absence of Mr. Perreault, who was experiencing technical difficulties.
Once again, I'd like to thank you and ask you to send us your briefs or reports, because we have just barely begun our study.
We are going to suspend the meeting for a few minutes, and then welcome the next witnesses.
The meeting is called back to order.
The committee is meeting today on its study of government measures to protect and promote French in Quebec and in Canada.
I would like to make a few comments for the benefit of the witnesses.
Before speaking, please wait until I call your name. When you are ready to speak, click on the microphone icon to activate it. Members will specify to whom their questions are being addressed.
I would remind everyone that all comments should be addressed through the chair.
Interpretation in this videoconference will work very much as it does in a regular committee meeting. You have the choice, at the bottom of your screen, of either Floor, English or French.
When speaking, please speak slowly and clearly, and when you are not speaking, your mike should be on mute.
I would now like to welcome the witnesses.
You will have seven and a half minutes for your opening remarks, followed by a round of questions and answers.
As usual, I will advise you when you have a minute of speaking time left and when your time is up.
We will be hearing from the Honourable Serge Joyal, jurist and former senator, appearing as an individual.
We also have with us the Honourable Marlene Jennings, the president of the Quebec Community Groups Network, and Ms. Sylvia Martin-Laforge, the director general of the QCGN.
Mr. Joyal, you have the floor for seven and a half minutes.
I will try to use my seven and a half minutes as efficiently as possible.
I would like to thank you for having invited me this afternoon.
I have 45 years of personal experience with Canada's Official Languages Act.
It began in 1976, when I filed a lawsuit in the Quebec Superior Court against Air Canada, which was a Crown corporation at the time, before the Honourable Justice Jules Deschênes. The purpose was to enable Air Canada employees to work in French, and more particularly to obtain an injunction to require Air Canada to translate all its maintenance manuals so that French could really be a language of work.
After that, I was behind the creation of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, of which you are the honourable members today. It came about when I introduced a bill in 1981 with my colleague Mr. Pierre De Bané.
I was also the architect of the Court Challenges Program for sections 16 to 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which delineate the status of French and give it the protection we know today.
I intervened in the Montfort Hospital case in 1997. There is no need for details about this since I believe most of you will remember it.
I also intervened with the president of the Treasury Board in 1998, when Francophone communities were suffering the consequences of the budget cuts decreed by the government of the day. Every single government budget item was affected, except for those pertaining to indigenous groups and for which an exception had been made. There was no exception for official language minority communities, on the other hand. I therefore intervened to have this decision reviewed.
I moved the amendment to part VII of the Official Languages Act in 2005. When our late colleague, Senator Jean-Robert Gauthier retired, we were able to continue the debate and have the amendment to part VII adopted. I will return to this later.
I intervened in 2007 to prevent the elimination of the Court Challenges Program by the government of the day. I supported the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne when it threatened to take action against the government to reverse its decision to eliminate the program.
I contributed to the study of the Senate Standing Committee on Official Languages for the 2018 review of the Official Languages Act.
Lastly, in 2019, I responded to a request from the Superior Court of Quebec with respect to the application of section 55 of the Constitution Act, 1982, to adopt an official French version of the Constitution Act, 1867. We are currently defending this in court.
I therefore thank you, given my background, for having invited me here this afternoon.
I will give a brief presentation, but I would imagine that during the round of questions, we will have an opportunity to go into more detail about the points I will have raised.
I'd like to begin by clarifying things for everyone.
My first point pertains to immigration, which is to say that a critical mass of French speakers needs to be maintained. This goal is essential to the vitality of French in Canada. Why? Because the fertility rate has not been keeping pace with the death rate. This is also true in Quebec, my home province. There would be a net annual decline without immigration.
My second point is that Quebec is the province in which people are aging most rapidly. Globally, we are virtually ex æquo with Japan. According to the statistics, 25% of Quebecers will be 65 years and over by 2030. This means that 25% of the population will have left the workforce or will no longer be participating actively. It's extremely important to take this statistic into account for any workforce planning.
I would refer you to the editorial in yesterday's, February 24, Le Devoir, which reported that the Institut de la statistique du Québec had found that immigrants held 12.2% of all jobs in Quebec 10 years ago, but now held 18%. This means that 250,000 of the jobs were held by immigrants whereas the number held by residents of Quebec declined by 110,000.
It further means that without the demographic resources of immigration, the ratio of francophones to anglophones in Quebec will decline. It is going to drop so much that in some regions, everyday living in French will become extremely difficult
My view is that this is a key question if we want to understand the dynamics in which we are collectively caught up, as Quebecers and Canadians, on matters of immigration. It's essential to ensure that people who wish to immigrate have access to financially supported training, not only for workers, but also their families, and those who are part of the family unit. This could restore the balance, which in my view is essential in our country.
In closing, I believe that it's extremely important to ensure the discoverability of French works on digital platforms. The new generations are highly influenced by the English language on that instrument that every one of us uses these days. I think that the issue of anglicization is a much more important priority and that it requires government initiatives. Otherwise the few random measures we might take will not succeed in reversing the pervasive shift towards English in all spheres of everyday life.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. I'd be happy to join your discussion this afternoon.
Good afternoon, members of the committee. My name is Marlene Jennings, and I am the president of the Quebec Community Groups Network. Accompanying me is director general of the QCGN, Sylvia Martin-Laforge.
For the past decade the Government of Canada has been under pressure from official language minority communities to modernize the Official Languages Act. Led by the QCGN, English-speaking Quebeckers have actively participated in numerous consultative processes, which led to the Honourable 's proposals last week on a way forward.
The QCGN's brief on modernizing the Official Languages Act, which was submitted to this committee in November 2018, was developed with the co-operation of a broad segment of the community sector serving English-speaking Quebec. We thank the organizations that took time to contribute.
What are English-speaking Quebec's expectations regarding a modernized act?
It remains that a central guiding principle of the Official Languages Act must be the equality of status of English and French. It must categorically guarantee this equality of status in all institutions subject to the act across Canada.
We're fully aware that the term “equality” has specific legal meaning. That is why the QCGN understands and supports an approach to implementing federal commitments to Canada's English and French linguistic minority communities that is adapted to the specific context and needs of different official language minority communities.
We understand that the French language requires special attention, and we acknowledge the data that demonstrates a national decline in the use of French and the demographic peril of francophone minority communities. We have just heard from Senator Joyal with regard to some of that demographic reality.
In the past, I have issued a statement, shared with the members of this committee, reaffirming our organization's commitment to respecting French as the official language of the province of Quebec and the ongoing work that we do to support and defend French in Quebec and in the rest of Canada.
However, we reject the notion that in the federal sphere, protecting and promoting French necessitates restricting the language rights of English-speaking Quebeckers. Too often our community is scapegoated or ignored. Enough of this. The majority of English-speaking Quebeckers remained in Quebec after the turmoil of the 1970s. We call Quebec home, and we understand our responsibility to learn and use French in the public space.
After all, it was a group of concerned English parents from Saint-Lambert who, in the 1960s, invented French immersion to ensure that our children could remain and be integrated into French-speaking Quebec. We are so perplexed that our schools were not even mentioned in the government's plans to increase support for French immersion.
Our community institutions—hospitals, libraries, post-secondary institutions—serve all Quebeckers, both in English and in French. After all, Jean-François Lisée famously learned English by joining a Scout troop in Thetford Mines. Paul St-Pierre Plamondon attended McGill University, as did Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. Harmonium got its start on CHOM FM.
Our community is not a threat to French. We are not “the others”.
The Government of Canada's proposals capture important demands made by Quebec's English-speaking community during consultations related to the modernization of the Official Languages Act.
There is a reason for optimism around proposals to strengthen the role of Treasury Board in the coordination of the act and expand the powers of the Commissioner of Official Languages to ensure compliance.
We also welcome the transfer of the court challenges program into the act, thus securing this important mechanism for protecting language rights before the courts.
There are opportunities for increased support to our communities institutions and provisions for more transparency on federal transfers directed toward our vitality, proposals that are tempered, unfortunately, by the need for provincial co-operation in our province.
Frankly, Quebec does not have a good track record on either front. Centralizing the management and control of health and social services institutions has severely impacted community participation in the leadership of our hospitals. Bill 40 attempted to strip us of section 23 minority language education rights, a fight that continues before the courts.
Now the Government of Quebec is floating the idea of placing enrolment caps on English CEGEPs, which will have a direct impact on resources available to those colleges.
Quebec has never agreed to binding linguistic clauses or transparency provisions on federal transfers. There is no reason to think it will do so in the future.
What you say is absolutely correct.
As you know, Quebec has had the initiative in matters of selecting immigrants since the 1978 Cullen-Couture agreement, which was renewed by minister McDougall and is still in force. This is important from two standpoints.
On the one hand, there is French-language training for immigrants. I don't know whether you are familiar with the Quebec auditor general's report on the unfortunate ineffectiveness of the French-language training programs for immigrants. In my view, responsibility for the program needs to be redefined. It's absolutely essential.
On the other hand, the Quebec government—and I'm not playing partisan politics here—has reduced the rate of immigration to Quebec. Quebec can reduce its immigration rate by disqualifying or not selecting certain applicants. But in doing so, it is reducing its relative influence in Canada, and this affects you, in the House of Commons.
I'm looking at Mr. Beaulieu. When electoral boundaries are being redistributed, the population ratios in the various regions of the country are always taken into consideration. Look what happened the last time the boundaries were redistributed. Most of the additional members were for Ontario and the western provinces, and only three for Quebec. However, in practice, what happened was not commensurate with actual population increases.
For Quebec, then, determining the quantum of immigration is a very strategic decision if it is to maintain its influence as the main centre for living in French in Canada and North America, as some witnesses said earlier. We are all aware of this. To strengthen the societal leverage of French Quebec, it is important for the population of Quebec not to decline and get steadily smaller, but rather have a steady flow of immigration that is integrated into a French-speaking community—
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
First off, I would like to thank the witnesses for being present here today. Do know that your input is critical for us.
I would like to start off by directing my questions to QCGN.
We often tend to gloss over the reality of the English minority community in Quebec. I would like for the members around this table to get a good snapshot of this English minority community in Quebec.
Ms. Jennings, I know that you did in your introductory remarks, but more specifically, can you give us examples in terms of their employment opportunities, median income, the question with regard to the retention of their schools, and factors that will assure the vitality of this English minority community? Can you give us a snapshot to the best of your ability?
Thank you very much for your question.
We all know that being employable and being employed are key indicators and factors for ensuring the vitality of any minority community. Guess what? Here in Quebec, the major employer is the Government of Quebec. The drawbridge of that château has been pulled up against English-speaking Quebeckers. Barely 1% of the public service of Quebec are English-speakers.
Then we look to the federal government, saying that maybe we can get our jobs there. Guess what? In all of the federal institutions operating in Quebec that come under the Official Languages Act as it is right now—which is over half of them—English-speaking Quebeckers are under-represented. At Correctional Service Canada, of 3,800 employees in Quebec, 110 are English speakers.
If we look at our unemployment rate, it's higher than the majority population. Our median income is the lowest amongst all of official language minority communities in Canada. Eighteen per cent of English-speaking Quebec lives below the low-income cut-off, compared to 12% for francophones in Quebec. Primary and secondary enrolment in English schools is down 60% since the 1970s, yet our bilingualism rate is 69%. It goes as high as 82% amongst our young people.
We're graduating and we're educating them. They are fluently bilingual, but when they try to get a job here, the provincial government closes the door on them. The federal government opens it up a crack. The proposal of doesn't even address that issue. That's a key issue for the vitality of our community. It doesn't address any of those issues.
One, the first thing the Government of Canada can do is confirm linguistic duality and the equality of the two official languages, English and French.
Two, we recognize and support that French is the official language of work in the province of Quebec and that it is the common language in the public sphere. We say to the state, get out of our bedrooms and our homes, please. The language that's spoken in a home is the business of that family. The question is, what language are they speaking in the public sphere outside of the home and what language are they speaking at work? The overwhelming majority of English Quebeckers are bilingual, can work in French, and want to work, but the doors have been shut to us.
Unless the federal government addresses some of the key issues that we've talked about, I foresee a very dismal future for the English-speaking minority communities of Quebec. That's number one. Number two is that if our own provincial government continues to refuse to address these issues and instead makes us a scapegoat, I see an even more dismal future.
Ms. Jennings spoke earlier about equality of status. Outside Quebec, English is the acknowledged common language, the language of integration for immigrants. Allophone language transfers are overwhelmingly towards English, perhaps as high as 99%. Each year, the assimilation of francophones outside Quebec grows apace.
In Quebec, it's the other way around. Anglophone educational institutions are overfunded, at both the primary and secondary levels. Anglophone CEGEPs receive approximately 17% of the funding, even though only 8.1% of the students' mother tongue is English. In university, the gap is even wider.
Without following the lead of what is done in English Canada for francophones, don't you think it would be equitable to strike a better balance? Bill 101 has always aimed at maintaining anglophone institutions, but for anglophones, not for the entire population, because that would promote language transfers towards English.
What's your view of this, Ms. Jennings?
Ms. Jennings, that's not what I said at all.
The very fact that there are anglophone institutions that can meet the needs of the anglophone community is already much more generous than what is happening in English Canada for francophones. Wanting equity and equality does not amount to playing soccer.
I'll give you another example.
We know that to maintain the demographic weight of francophones in Quebec, newcomers need to integrate into Quebec society, with language transfers proportional to the demographic weight of francophones. Whenever newcomers settle in a country, it's only natural for them to integrate with the majority.
Eighty-five per cent of newcomers go to Montreal, and when they do they tend to gravitate towards the English Canadian majority. With respect, that's why French should be the common language, the official language, and the language of inclusion for everyone, including anglophones.
We fully agree with maintaining anglophone institutions to help the anglophone community to thrive.
You said that you agreed that French should be the common language. That means that it is only natural, even for Anglophones, for French to be used as the common language, which is to say—
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
My first questions are for Senator Joyal.
Mr. Joyal, you probably don't remember this, but the first time we met, I was attending the CEGEP in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. It was 1990, and our discussion was about Meech Lake.
I really liked your intervention on the importance of immigration to ensure that there is a critical mass of francophones in certain communities. Otherwise, the population could shrink and it would become difficult afterwards to maintain resources and services in French.
Quebec controls—you spoke about this earlier—all economic immigration. As Quebec assigns a lot of points to people who know French, this facilitates the arrival of francophone immigrants. We saw this with the people from Maghrebian communities who have settled in Quebec over the past few years.
I'd like to hear what you have to say about what the federal government might do to attract more francophone immigrants to communities outside Quebec to maintain these critical masses.
Thank you for your question.
I remember the 1990s very well. Perhaps we'll have an opportunity to reminisce at some point.
I can tell you that the Canadian government can do a great deal to encourage people from outside Canada to immigrate to regions where francophone communities are short of workers and resources. I understand that your colleague from British Columbia has an enormous need for French-language teachers. I think this is also the case in several other provinces, as shown by the numbers. One particular situation in Saskatchewan was recently brought to my attention.
There are categories of jobs in these regions designated as essential to the vitality of French in the community. To support the recruitment of such resources, I think that the Canadian government can do a lot more with countries from which newcomers either already know French, or have agreed to take training in French and the accept a job commensurate with their new language skills. I believe that the government could be much more proactive than it has been to date.
I believe that in your exploration of ways to amend the act, you should consider amending the preamble, and in particular subsection 2(b), which says the following about the purpose of the act:
...support the development of English and French linguistic minority communities and generally advance the equality of status and use of the English and French languages within Canadian society...
There is an acknowledgementtechnical difficulties...
I'm going to share my speaking time with Mr. Blaney, my honourable colleague from Quebec's South Shore .
I'll begin with a comment, and then ask Ms. Jennings a brief question.
Ms. Jennings, you said that you were delighted with what the project presented by the current government said with respect to official languages. Allow me to tell you that I am not happy about it and that it does not do anything to protect official languages. I wanted you to know this, because we're not on the same wavelength.
You also made a very interesting comment. I like the fact that according to your organization, anglophones are not a threat to francophones. I like this point of view, which I find constructive. I believe that we need to learn from the treatment given to anglophones in Quebec, and to use it as a model that could be exported to Canada.
I believe that if we promote French, Canada will become even stronger in terms of bilingualism. That's my comment. I will now turn over my speaking time to my South Shore colleague Mr Blaney.
Mr. Chair, I'd like to thank my colleague through you. I must say the time is winding down.
I'd like to welcome the witnesses and thank them for appearing before the committee. We have some former parliamentarians, Ms. Jennings and Mr. Joyal, an eminent senator.
It's truly a privilege to have you with us. x I was able, as the minister of the francophonie, to underscore the 40th anniversary of the Official Languages Act .
Mr. Joyal, You spoke about immigration, but we see francophones in Quebec gravitating towards English. What can we do to have the Official Languages Act offset this sociological asymmetry and the fact that we are in an anglophone sea? How can we do this while respecting the anglophone minority, which expressed itself very commendably today? How can we prevent this decline, which I would not dare call ineluctable, but which is nevertheless a reality?
I know that this question falls outside of the framework of the Official Languages Act. You spoke about culture and language. I'm going to use the first part of my speaking time to ask this question. Thank you for being with us.
Any approach to strengthen the use of French must be comprehensive. There is an English term, which has been translated into French, which also describes it. That term is "holistic," which means roughly that it addresses all aspects of life. This applies as much to the quality of oral French as it does to the protection of historical heritage, training in future-oriented fields, whatever they may be, and even the use of what I mentioned earlier, which was how the new tools were in fact insidious instruments for latent anglicization.
We simply need to look at the new generations and what they have access to. Previously, we had access to one satellite and 50 television stations. These days, every aspect of our everyday life is covered and influenced by the device we all carry with us. The new generations will in the coming years have nothing but their phones. We need to give this a great deal of thought.
These four minutes will go by in a flash with Senator Joyal, our guests his evening, and our witnesses.
Mr. Joyal, I'd like to return to the issue of demographic decline. Could you tell us more about this?
Before handing over to you, however, I'd like to make a brief comment about your proposals on bill , the francophonie and discoverability.
I'd like to remind my colleagues and the people listening to us that the government took Canada to UNESCO and provided funding for cultural diversity in 2018. It was when my colleague was in Paris that we addressed digital issues. I know that these discussions have been progressing for three years now. You might even speak about it to our colleague, Minister of Canadian heritage Mr. Guilbeault. There were in fact many international discussions and you are right to say that that is the right direction to take.
Nevertheless, there is an extremely major challenge in terms of francization and immigration. Would you agree that if we focused solely on language of work without doing anything about francization and immigration, and without encouraging immigration corridors within and outside Quebec, the demographic weight of French would decrease in North America?
What's missing is the francization process and the immigration corridors.
You spoke about teachers, but are there other things to mention?
I believe that it's essential for the Canadian government to further strengthen its immigration officers' profile abroad. That's for both Quebec and the Canadian government. I know that there was a time, for Quebec at least, when the size of the offices was reduced and several were even combined.
For Quebec and Canada alike, it's essential to ensure that the best efforts are made in Canada's embassies and consulates, and at Quebec delegations, to try and target groups that might be interested in the possibilities offered by Canada, and Quebec in particular.
Look at what's happening in the hospital sector. Almost 10,000 people left their jobs during the pandemic.
Look what's happening with the childhood education centres (CPEs) in Quebec; the government was unable to keep its promise, because there were not enough early childhood educators.
Look at what happened in the agriculture sector last summer.
There are all kinds of opportunities. However, we get the impression that all of these many opportunities in Québec, like those elsewhere in Canada, are insufficiently understood and do not use enough arguments to take advantage of the immigration resources that exist in other countries
Ms. Jennings, my question is for you.
In the NDP, when we speak about language proficiency or rights, we don't consider it a zero-sum game. It's not a matter of one player winning and the other losing. We want everyone to grow and advance together. You spoke earlier—and I was very pleased with what you said—about the special attention needed for the French fact, given that it is such a small minority in the North American context.
The previous witnesses spoke about the difference between formal equality under the act, and real equality, sociologically speaking, in fact. You, on the other hand, did not use the word "asymmetry". Do you believe that the French language, in Quebec and Canada, is in an asymmetrical position with respect to the English language, even though equality in practice is recognized?
That's all the time we have for this meeting.
On behalf of all the committee members and myself personally, I thank you for having accepted our invitation and for having contributed to this study. I thank lawyer and former senator the Honourable Serge Joyal, who appeared as an individual; the Honourable Marlene Jennings, the president of the Quebec Community Groups Network, and Ms. Sylvia Martin-Laforge, the director general of that organization. Please send us any other documentation you feel might be useful to us for this study.
In closing, I would also like to thank the whole team that was with us for this meeting: the clerk, the analysts, the interpreters and the technicians.
Thank you for your contribution.
The meeting is now adjourned.