Intolerance of francophones based on ignorance
Franco fête not enough, Spectator should have section on understanding the French
I like to think my daily paper tries not to make errors in judgment, so I will give you the benefit of the doubt. I think that when you put together the letters to the editor the week of July 6 (Now, if we could only get Quebec to leave), you had a small space to fill and you used a short letter that would fit. I used to “typeset” a newspaper in the old days and it was sometimes useful to find just that one paragraph.
In this case, it may have been a paragraph that talked about something that is just too close to intolerance for me to ignore. The writer is just the third writer in a few weeks awarded precious space in our daily paper to express more than dislike of one of our Canadian core values, or just half-informed opinions for that matter. I tried all week to ignore it, but it just has to be addressed.
Not liking a particular province because it may have “caused” our country to have two official languages, is just another indication that we have to make sure that history is being taught in school. Our country is an example of three cultures coming together to build a kinder, gentler society that respects its citizens. We have two official languages, both equal under the Charter and the law (1969), and our federal government can communicate with 96 per cent of its citizens by using one or the other.
In Canada, more than one million francophones live outside of the province of Québec. Some of them have ancestry that has been around for more than 400 years. Some are new to our country. But all of them are your neighbours and friends.
Each year, more than 1.7 million students will learn French as a second language in Canada. These children will be global citizens who will know that speaking two languages is a good thing, and more is better.
Ontario has the largest francophone population outside of Québec. More than 600,000 people have French as their first official language, almost as many as the number of anglophones living in Québec. Eleven per cent of Ontarians can speak English and French. More than five per cent of Ontario’s francophones live in Hamilton-Niagara.
Since there needs to be a personal story to make it this printable, here is mine. As a young girl, a long time ago, when the first prime minister Trudeau came on the scene, I bought his vision of a bilingual and multicultural country. I worked in Alberta, and then decided to become really bilingual, so I came to Brock University to learn sciences. I married a francophone from Welland and happily became a “franco-Ontarian.”
My original quest was to be able to know and communicate with my fellow Canadians, anywhere in our big beautiful country. I am older now, and I am proud to have lived, worked or played in all 10 provinces and three territories.
The past five years of my career, I was fortunate to be the Ontario representative for the Commissioner of Official Languages. It was inspiring to see so many people cheering on this law, which is a strong basis of our inclusivity, and the envy of many troubled countries.
I never forced my friends and colleagues to become bilingual, since my intent was always to better communicate.
Knowing both official languages just made it easier for me. It took me about 30 years to become what is now labelled “equibilingual” (able to speak both languages as if they were their native tongue).
It was hard at times to be bullied by intolerant people (that letter is not my first brush with this), but I always trusted in the tolerance of my fellow Canadians and the media to keep true to our values. I still struggle with the ‘th’ sound, but I learned to live with it, as have my friends. Nobody is perfect — personae n’est parfait.
I take comfort in the fact that I may read your newspaper for about four more years than your average reader since there are some cognitive perks in knowing more than one language. Now that I am older, I will reap the benefits of my hard work.
The Spectator should make it a habit to have a regular section on the “francophonie,” a little more than the annual picture at the Franco fête.
It could build bridges, even make it fun and entertaining, not just for your francophone readers, but for students, teachers and parents as well.
In closing, as a Canadian party trick, look up the word “ignorance” in an English and in a French dictionary. It is spelled exactly the same. Coincidence?
Suzanne Bélanger-Fontaine is a principal consultant with Qannik Management Solutions — Les solutions de gestion Qannik. She was a proud public servant for 30 years. She recently retired from her position as Ontario representative for the Commissioner of Official Languages.
In Canada, more than one million francophones live outside of the province of Québec.