Language issues in Canada refer primarily to the country’s two official languages, English and French. Pursuant to recommendations of the Report of the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism (1969), Parliament adopted the first Official Languages Act (1969), which extended to all federal institutions. The current official languages policy is reflected in the:
- Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982): Under Section 16, English and French are proclaimed official languages of Canada and of the province of New Brunswick. Official bilingualism applies to legislative debates and proceedings, statutes, records and journals in federal and New Brunswick courts, and the provision of services and communications with the public. Quebec is officially French and all other provinces and territories in Canada are unilingual English. Minority educational rights for children to receive primary and secondary schooling in the language of the official language minority population of a province are guaranteed under the Charter.
- Official Languages Act (1988): promotes linguistic duality in Canadian society and supports development of official language minority communities in Canada. Sections 41 and 42 of the Act commit the federal government to enhance the vitality of the official language minority communities of Canada, foster the full recognition and use of both official languages and promote a co-ordinated approach among federal institutions.
Through its responsibilities under the Official Languages Act, Canadian Heritage supports the Minister of Canadian Heritage, Status of Women and Official Languages, also responsible for La Francophonie, in facilitating the enhancement of Canada’s two official languages and supporting official language minority communities. The Department of Canadian Heritage also encourages and promotes a coordinated approach to the implementation of Section 41 of the Official Languages Act (1985). Since 1994, Section 41 has been the subject of an annual report by the Department of Canadian Heritage on the implementation of the Act by 27 designated federal institutions. Through the Development of Official Language Communities Programme, the Department of Canadian Heritage works with partners to increase the overall proportion of eligible students enrolled in minority language schools in Canada (see chapter 4.1.8). Approximately 25% of some CAD 2.8 billion in federal cultural spending in 2000 was allocated to French-language cultural expression. The CBC / Radio-Canada, Canada’s national public broadcaster is a major contributor to bilingualism in the provision of cultural goods and services and also broadcasts in 8 Aboriginal languages in northern Canada. Of a total CBC / Radio-Canada budget in 2005-06 (operating expenditures include television, radio, corporate management, amortisation of property and equipment, specialty services and distribution and affiliates) of CAD 1.704 billion in 2005-06, French language television accounted for 24% and French language radio for 9%. The CBC also operates several French-language specialty channels on digital cable and satellite.
The Canada Council for the Arts, Telefilm Canada, the National Film Board and Canadian Heritage operate programmes that provide financial support for official minority language writers and publishers, musicians and other performers, museums and galleries and film makers. About fifty percent of Canadian Culture Online funds are dedicated to the development of French-language content on the Internet. Approximately one-third of the Canadian Television Fund flows to French- language productions and the other two-thirds to English language productions. The National Arts Centre operates theatre programmes in English and French. In 2003-04, the Department of Canadian Heritage renewed its Development of Official Language Communities and Enhancement of Official Languages Programmes. The Department of Canadian Heritage supports provincial and territorial second-language learning programmes, which reach 2.5 million Canadians. The government also works closely with over 150 NGOs to promote Canada’s two official languages.
In November 2006, the government responded to the 6th Report of the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages: French-language Education in a Minority Setting: a Continuum from Early Childhood to the Postsecondary Level. The federal government is committed to working with the provinces and territories to support and improve the educational opportunities and outcomes for all Canadians living in minority language communities. It is primarily focussed on early learning and childcare, primary and secondary education and postsecondary education. This undertaking has resulted in an investment of approximately CAD 5 billion over the past 35 years. Students from Francophone minorities now reach parity with those from the Anglophone majority (outside Quebec) with respect to the percentage of postsecondary graduates within one and a half generations. According to an Ipsos-Reid Survey in 2004, French immersion students have greater awareness of the benefits of linguistic duality especially fluency in both languages.
In June 2008, the government of Canada released the Roadmap for Linguistic Duality in Canada 2008-2013 in furtherance of which a government-wide investment of CAD 1.1 billion over five years to encourage linguistic duality among all Canadians and to support official- language communities in health, justice, immigration, economic development, and arts and culture. The Roadmap is designed to support the cultural vitality of communities by emphasising the value of increased knowledge of English and French and access to services for both official-language communities. It will target youth in particular and will be implemented by 13 federal departments and agencies.
French language development is also enhanced through the following instruments (other than the Official Languages Act and Programme): the Francophone Institute for New Information and Training Technologies (INTIF), the Francophone Information Highway Fund (FFI), the Information Highway Access Points for Youth Programme, the Intergovernmental Agency of La Francophonie (AIF) and Franconet Canada. Among other things, the AIF supports the arts, audiovisual and cultural heritage particularly in developing Francophone countries.
Language issues in Canada also relate to Aboriginal languages. In this regard, the Aboriginal Languages Initiative (ALI), created in 1998, provides CAD 5 million annually to support the preservation, revitalisation and promotion of Aboriginal languages in Canada. In 2006-07, the ALI provided funding to 24 Aboriginal organisations, allowing over 200 communities to carry out language projects. Three-quarters of funding is earmarked for First Nations languages, 15% for Inuktitut, and 10% for Michif, the Métis language. Individual organisations assess the conditions of their own languages and develop intervention strategies based on these needs. Funding is also provided annually to the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) in support of the Chiefs Committee on Languages and for its comprehensive approach including research, planning and symposia. The ALI also provides targeted support to 6 Inuit regional organisations focussing on early childhood language acquisition, promotional projects for youth, and the development of new Inuktitut lexicons and directories, and to the work of the National Inuit Language Committee. Five Métis organisations also receive support to the revitalisation of Michif including working groups and workshops for language practitioners and regional organisations, as well as funding for the Métis National Council (MNC) in relation to the work of the national Michif Language Working Group and the annual Michif Conference. In September 2008, the government of Canada announced funding for the Qikiqtani Inuit Association’s project, Pigiarvik, designed to preserve, protect and promote the Inuktitut language among the younger generations of Inuit. It has several components including traditional knowledge and its digitisation and the development of Inuktitut magazines for children and youth.
Another area of growing recognition is of other non-official or third or “heritage” languages. The Canadian Multiculturalism Act (1985) states the policy of Canada is to “preserve and enhance the use of languages other than English and French, while strengthening the status of and use of the official languages of Canada” and to “facilitate the acquisition, retention and use of all languages that contribute to the multicultural heritage of Canada.” It is revealing that even in the Canadian Multiculturalism Act (1985), languages other than the official languages are cast in terms of promoting official languages objectives.
According to the 2006 Census, Canadians speak some 147 languages, up from 38 in 1971. The mother tongue of 58% (down from 61% in 1991) of Canadians (Anglophones) is English, 22% (down from 25%in 1991) is French (Francophones) and 21% (up from 16% in 1991) have other languages as their mother tongue (Allophones). Outside Quebec, Francophones accounted for 4.3% of the population. In Quebec, Anglophones comprised 8.6% of the province’s population in 2006, down from 9.6% in 1991 (a percent decrease but numeric increase). Allophones, largely immigrants, account for slightly more than one-quarter of the population of Ontario and British Columbia and for a majority of the population growth in each these two provinces. The top five non-official languages spoken at home in Canada are Chinese (comprising 8 language categories including Mandarin and Cantonese), Italian, German, Punjabi and Spanish, in that order. After Chinese, languages exhibiting strong growth in recent years in Canada include Urdu, Punjabi, Arabic and Tagalog (Philippines).
One of the most interesting examples of the enhancement of non-official languages in Canada is found in Canada’s broadcasting system. A wide range of digital specialty and pay cable services are licensed in Canada including “third language” ethno-cultural stations. According to the CRTC Ethnic Broadcasting Policy (1999), ethnic television and stations are required to devote at least 60 % of their schedules to ethnic programming and at least 50 % of their schedules must consist of their own respective language programming. As of December 2006, the CRTC had approved over 189 Canadian ethnic pay and specialty services. Of these, 26 specialty and four (4) pay services have been launched. The Commission also authorizes non-Canadian third-language programming services that may be distributed by broadcasting distribution undertakings in Canada. As of December 2006, there are 71 third-language programming services authorised for distribution. Moreover, 21 private commercial over-the-air third-language radio stations had been authorised by 2006 to broadcast in Canada, each with certain unique conditions of license that were imposed to ensure diversity of the programming. (CRTC Broadcasting Policy Monitoring Report 2007) In June 2008, the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages asked the CRTC to report on the accessibility and quality of broadcasting services offered to minority French- and English-language communities. It forms part of the government’s new initiative entitled, Roadmap for Canada’s Linguistic Duality, 2008-2013 (see above).
In June 2008, the government of Canada announced the development of a new Programme to Support Linguistic Rights. The Programme is intended to promote awareness of linguistic rights through public education, to offer access to mediation and arbitration to settle disputes out of court, and to support litigation that helps to clarify linguistic rights when test cases are involved and mediation efforts have failed and is funded at CAD 1.5 million annually through the Development of Official-Language Communities Programme in the Department of Canadian Heritage. In August 2008, the government of Canada marked the 35th anniversary of the Official Language Monitor Programme funded by the Department of Canadian Heritage and administered by the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) in cooperation with provincial and territorial departments of education (see chapter 5.1).
Another interesting report in the area of language is a CD Howe study entitled, Laggards No More (Vaillancourt et al 2007) which concludes that the socio-economic status of francophones in Quebec has increased steadily since 1960, the beginning of the Quiet Revolution in that province almost fifty years ago. Incomes of bilingual francophones (male and female) in Quebec now surpass those of unilingual and bilingual anglophones and unilingual francophones. It is noteworthy, none the less, that the average male annual income of female bilingual francophones, at CAD 26 644, is much less than that of male bilingual francophones at CAD 38 851. The report also found that Francophones own 67% of the Quebec economy in 2003, up from 47% in 1961.