Description: This paper is concerned with the question of Canadian bilingualism. Given that the United States is well known for opposing bilingualism, it is well worth asking if Canadian bilingualism was a mistake. Through an examination of the issue on both sides of the border, this paper argues that Canadian bilingualism was not a mistake for the following reasons. First, English has maintained language prevalence in the United States for many years, only now are Americans faced with the tough social issues endemic of growing bilingualism. These issues have arisen rapidly as the result of a dramatic upsurge in immigration over the last thirty years. The sudden changing demographic leaves Americans ill equipped to handle the new social challenges that the changing shape of their country represents. Second, the fact that Canada has embraced, to a greater degree, the notion of a multi-cultural community, places Canada in a better position to handle the reality of globalization in the 21st century. Finally, the conditions under which Canada entered confederation, with an already native French speaking population, meant that a Canadian union had to be something unique. There is, in fact, an ethical consideration underlying Canada’s policy of maintaining two official languages: the alternative would have meant a cultural genocide for Quebec.
From the Essay:
In Canada, French-English relations have been a central theme in Canadian history, going back long before Confederation (Fraser, 2006, p. 13). Indeed, for some two hundred years, the rules of the debate have been clear, if lopsided: the French have traditionally borne the burden of bilingualism. French, however, was never forbidden, not even after English forces conquered New France. In the Quebec Act of 1774, the British declared their sovereignty over the French colonies, but did not choose to impose their language, religion, or their legal system (Fraser, 2006, p. 15). According to Sir Edward Thurlow, the Attorney-General of Great Britain, “humanity, justice and wisdom equally conspired to leave the people just as they were” (qtd. in Fraser, 2006, p. 15). Thus, while bilingual relations in Canada have been lopsided, there was an attempt in the Quebec Act to equate the preservation of French culture within Canada as a human rights issue. Canadian bilingualism is fundamentally rooted in a moral imperative that disavows the destruction of French culture through cultural assimilation. It may be argued that this early foundation paved the way for Canada’s general acceptance of minority cultures, as reinforced in Canada’s immigration and multi-cultural policies.