LAN­GUAGE MAT­TERS

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Thou­sands of Franco-On­tar­i­ans and sup­port­ers filled the south lawn of Ot­tawa City Hall on Satur­day, de­mand­ing that the pro­vin­cial Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment pro­tect French-lan­guage rights, with many draw­ing a par­al­lel to the 1997 protests that helped to save the Mont­fort Hos­pi­tal.“It’s an on­go­ing bat­tle here in On­tario, mostly with the Con­ser­va­tives, but, still, it’s non-stop,” Syl­vain Potvin said as be­tween 2,500 and 3,000 peo­ple packed the lawn off Lis­gar Street.“We still have to prove that we be­long and we do have rights.”There were demon­stra­tions or­ga­nized across the prov­ince, a re­sponse to Premier Doug Ford’s de­ci­sion to end the role of the French Lan­guage Ser­vices Com­mis­sioner’s of­fice and to can­cel plans for a new French-lan­guage univer­sity in Toronto.Amanda Si­mard, the MPP for Glen­garry-Prescott-Rus­sell, left the PC cau­cus this past week to sit as an in­de­pen­dent be­cause of her for­mer party’s de­ci­sions on the fran­co­phone file.Fol­low­ing the ini­tial con­tro­versy, the PCs an­nounced they would cre­ate a French-lan­guage com­mis­sioner in the om­buds­man’s of­fice and cre­ate a Min­istry of Fran­co­phone Af­fairs un­der Min­is­ter Caro­line Mul­roney.Ford also an­nounced he would hire a se­nior pol­icy ad­viser for fran­co­phone af­fairs. Plans for the univer­sity, how­ever, re­mained can­celled.Coun. Mathieu Fleury com­pared the rally at city hall to a mas­sive demon­stra­tion at TD Place arena, then known as the Ot­tawa Civic Cen­tre, when the Mike Har­ris pro­vin­cial PC gov­ern­ment threat­ened to close the Mont­fort Hos­pi­tal.Fleury was 13 years old when, just over 20 years ago, Franco- On­tar­ian stu­dents packed school buses and headed for Lans­downe Park to send Queen’s Park a mes­sage.“It feels like to­day,” Fleury said be­hind the stage af­ter he revved up the crowd with a pas­sion­ate speech.Fleury said there was strong ev­i­dence of the im­por­tance of French-lan­guage re­sources in On­tario in the num­ber of an­glo­phone par­ents who en­rol their chil­dren in French im­mer­sion pro­grams.“We’re not look­ing for a fight, but we’re also not go­ing to sit on our hands if we feel at risk,” Fleury said. “Toronto’s shak­ing to­day.”Jean-François La­celle of Gatineau, whose fam­ily is Franco-On­tar­ian, remembered the in­flu­ence of the Mont­fort rally, too.“If we can’t re­spect the rights of Franco- On­tar­i­ans or fran­co­phone Cana­di­ans, then how can peo­ple be­lieve that we’re go­ing to re­spect the rights of any kind of mi­nor­ity in Canada?” La­celle said.“It’s not that just we’re protest­ing for us fran­co­phones, it’s about learn­ing to re­spect all of Cana­dian mi­nori­ties and learn­ing to give them the re­spect for their cul­ture.”Ron Caza had rock-star sta­tus at the rally, pos­ing for pic­tures with fam­i­lies.He helped to lead the fight to save the Mont­fort Hos­pi­tal.“The rea­son why peo­ple are com­ing in num­bers is be­cause what we are al­leg­ing is true,” Caza said as he held a gi­ant Franco- On­tar­ian flag.“Th­ese in­sti­tu­tions that the Ford and Mul­roney Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment have ba­si­cally elim­i­nated are es­sen­tial to the fran­co­phone com­mu­nity.”There were so many peo­ple at Satur­day’s rally that Ot­tawa po­lice shut down Lis­gar Street. Or­ga­niz­ers handed out plas­tic clap­pers and green scarves, while peo­ple danced to tunes by a trio of mu­si­cians per­form­ing on the stage.Claude and Mélanie Bussiere brought their young son and daugh­ter to Satur­day’s rally to show sup­port for French-lan­guage rights.“We can’t be Franco-On­tar­i­ans to­day with young kids growing up who will even­tu­ally want a post-sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion and not protest what’s hap­pen­ing right now,” Mélanie Bussiere said.“The univer­si­ties we do cur­rently have in On­tario do of­fer French pro­grams, but you get to a point where there are no more avail­able re­sources and teach­ers to teach those cour­ses in French, so we have no choice but to switch to English and that’s not right. That’s what we’re here to protest. It seems we’re fight­ing the same fight over and over again, but that’s OK,” she added.“We’re strong, Franco-On­tar­i­ans. We’ll do it again with noise­mak­ers, signs, our flag, and we’ll fight the bat­tle again.”At least one counter-pro­tester stood at the fringes of the crowd.Christo­pher Cameron of Corn­wall said he didn’t be­lieve in lan­guage laws and he dis­missed what he saw as “iden­tity pol­i­tics” at the rally.He sym­pa­thized with the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment and the need to find bud­get sav­ings by can­celling the French-lan­guage univer­sity.“I think that cuts have to be made. We have no choice. The deficits have bal­looned. We can’t af­ford to put our fu­ture gen­er­a­tions in debt and that’s what this is re­ally about,” Cameron said.“This is one univer­sity out of four. Why has this be­come a na­tional is­sue? It’s as sim­ple as that.”Carla Faulkner-Parte­nio, an an­glo­phone from Ot­tawa who re­ceived a bilin­gual his­tory de­gree from York Univer­sity in Toronto, said she was fight­ing for stu­dents.“I wanted this univer­sity to be an op­tion for Franco- On­tar­ian peo­ple and for an­glo­phones like me who had this dream of fur­ther­ing their ed­u­ca­tion in French,” Faulkner-Parte­nio said.

Thou­sands protest cuts to French ser­vices by the Ford gov­ern­ment at a rally out­side Ot­tawa City Hall on Satur­day.

A pro­tester at the Ot­tawa rally in sup­port of French-lan­guage rights, one of sev­eral held across On­tario on the week­end.

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