French gains ground among newcomers
Stats Can survey disproves fears about immigration
For the first time in modern history, the first official language of more than half of Quebec immigrants is French, says Statistics Canada’s 2011 National Household Survey.
New data released Wednesday reveal that 51.1 per cent of foreign-born Quebecers have French as their first official language spoken compared with 48.4 per cent of Quebecers born outside Canada in 2006.
Among recent immigrants to Quebec, French is even more dominant, with 58.8 per cent of all newcomers who arrived between 2006 and 2011 having French as their first official language spoken.
An additional 16.3 per cent of Quebec immigrants (all dates of arrival) have both French and English as first official language spoken, while 20.1 per cent have English and 4.8 per cent do not speak either official language.
The findings show that Quebec’s immigration policy, which favours applicants from French-speaking countries, has been successful at maintaining the vibrancy of the French fact despite increasing diversity, said Jean-Pierre Corbeil, Statistics Canada’s chief language specialist and assistant director of social and aboriginal statistics.
The new statistics disprove the contention that immigration threatens to drown the French language, he said.
“There’s no doubt that there is an increase in immigration,” Corbeil said.
“This shows clearly that there is an increased level of knowledge of French and fewer recent immigrants who speak only English, which is significant,” Corbeil said.
The first official language spoken is the official language a person uses habitually, even if that person also speaks a non-official language some of the time. For example, a person from Algeria might speak Arabic at home but use French at work and when shopping.
Daniel Weinstock, a professor of law at McGill Uni- versity, said the findings confirm that no longer do most immigrants automatically gravitate toward the Englishspeaking community.
“That’s huge and it gives the lie to a lot of the scaremongering,” he said.
Alarm bells were sounded in Quebec after the 2006 census showed the proportion of mother-tongue francophones had dipped under 50 per cent on the island of Montreal because of increased immigration.
Weinstock said the survey results show newcomers are not a threat to French because they are increasingly speaking it rather than English. “I see it very anecdotally with my kids’ friends, who come from all over the world,” said Weinstock, who recounted that his daughter recently went to see a popular U.S. movie in the French dubbed version because many of her friends speak French better than English.
“Things have changed,” he said.
“I still have the reflexes of somebody who was born in 1963 in Quebec, which is that when I see a young Portuguese or a young Italian, I expect the first official language that is going to come out of their mouths is going to be English, and that’s just not the case,” Weinstock said.
Bill 101, which requires the children of immigrants to attend French school, has succeeded in making French the language used by many immigrants, and especially by their children, Weinstock said.
“It’s good news and it’s what you would expect from 35 years of operation of the educational provisions of the language law,” he said.
Weinstock added that beef- ing up Bill 101 — the purpose of the Parti Québécois government’s controversial Bill 14 — is not the way to ensure the future of French.
“I think we’ve reached the limits of coercion. I think here has to be a way of making the use of French more attractive to people,” he said.
Winston Chan, an entrepreneur and chairperson of the Quebec Alliance of Young Chambers of Commerce, said immigrants from China are among the fastest-growing groups in Quebec.
“Most of them are young adults, 25 to 35. A lot of them are graduates of Canadian universities,” Chan said.
They face daunting barriers to employment, he said. “We should put more money into programs to help them integrate. One of the issues is to help them have a first experience of work in Quebec by having a stage, or internship,” he said.
There is high unemployment not only among newcomers but also among second-generation immigrants, particularly from visual minorities, Chan said.
“Racial discrimination still exists. There’s also a lack of networks. For somebody who grew up in Côte-des-Neiges or in a multi-ethnic area, it’s not the same reality as if you grew up in Westmount or Outremont,” he said. “There are still many barriers.”
The survey shows that immigrants represented 12.6 per cent of Quebec’s 7.9-million population in 2011.
That proportion is rising, with nearly one in five immigrants to Canada choosing to settle in Quebec, said Tina Chui, chief of immigration and ethno-cultural statistics at the national statistics agency. Quebec has become more popular with immigrants since 2006, when 17.5 per cent of newcomers went to Quebec. Nearly nine out of 10 of Quebec’s 974,895 immigrants live in Montreal, where 22.6 per cent of the population is foreign-born.
The survey showed that outlying suburbs are also becoming more diverse, with immigrants making up 12.2 per cent of the population of the “couronne” around Montreal in 2011, compared to 10.2 per cent in 2006.
Winston Chan, of the Quebec Alliance of Young Chambers of Commerce, says new immigrants still need job help.