In­tol­er­ance of fran­co­phones based on ig­no­rance

Franco fête not enough, Spec­ta­tor should have sec­tion on un­der­stand­ing the French

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - SUZANNE BÉLANGER-FON­TAINE

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.

TOM HAN­SON, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

In Canada, more than one mil­lion fran­co­phones live out­side of the prov­ince of Québec.

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