Due to the expansion of European countries from the Old World to the New World, different countries in the New World nowadays have a very diverse community with different cultures living together in the same country. Canada is a very interesting example since it was once under the British and France’s control. This results in the issue of a huge French speaking community near the Quebec area while other parts of Canada mainly spoke English. The following essay will focus on the language rights issue in Canada, exploring the effectiveness and value of the language rights policy in Canada.
In contrast to the United States ideal of the “melting pot” which promotes gradual assimilation, Canada is more towards a “multicultural mosaic” which promotes differences in cultural and language (Meyerhoff 1994: 924). Abiding to the ideal of “multicultural mosaic”, in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom, it lists that “English and French are the official languages of Canada and have equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all institutions of the Parliament and government of Canada” (Dube 2008). As one can see, Canada’s approach to multiculturalism is to respect differences in culture and language. In the following I will explain both the disadvantages and advantages of this policy.
The first advantage of this policy is to preserve the unique French culture in Canada (Woehrling 2004: 54). Within the Charter at Section 23, it promotes the right for the English or French minorities to get educated by their minority language. This is important since first, education in one’s language helps to preserve one’s culture and language. Second, it prevents assimilation within the minority group. Take a French speaking child studying in an English school. This child’s only exposure to French and French culture would only be at home. As time moves on, he/ she will gradually forget his/her own French culture due to the limited exposure to French speakers. Moreover, due to the learning environment, he/she will likely get assimilated into the English culture. Therefore, with minority language education, it preserves the minority’s culture and language and prevents assimilation.
Second, ideally it promotes a single unified national identity in Canada (Woehrling 2004: 68). If English is the only official language in Canada, the French speaking Canadians will have a loss of identity. This is because French speaking Canadian’s culture and language is different from the English speaking community. If only English is the national language of Canada, the French speakers will feel that they do not fit in the national identity of a Canadian. This will promote assimilation of the French speakers since in order to gain the national identity, the French speakers will have to learn English and learn English culture. Hence, with the equality between French and English speaking language, it will promote a specific identity for Canadians.
Despite the advantages of this policy, there are quite a few disadvantages. With the promotion of bilingual, it sets a good basis for the language rights in Canada and more importantly multiculturalism (Meyerhoff 1994: 986). Through the Charter, French and English are used in courts, parliamentary proceedings, and in legislative text. However, they only emphasize equality between French and English but not other languages or cultures like aboriginal people or ethnic minorities. This hugely contradicts with Canada’s ideal of “multicultural mosaic” since multiculturalism and language rights are based on equality of opportunity for individuals and equality in treatment of groups. This is due to the Charter promoting the official languages French and English while leaving other languages and culture behind. Moreover, as other non-official language rights are absent, it promotes assimilation in the society. This is because Canada’s language rights imply official language minorities should be preserved while the others are not. Furthermore, with the close tie between language and culture, the Charter promoting equality between French and English is inconsistent with Canada’s ideal of preserving cultural diversity.
Second, the ideal of promoting unity throughout the nation can be problematic (Meyerhoff 1994: 994). This is because ideally they constructed the Charter to respond to the Quebec people and ethnic tensions. Their focus was solely on Quebec and uniting Quebec and Canada at large. However it turns out this unique language rights have not united French and English speaking Canada. Some believe official bilingualism was impractical and unnecessary. Moreover, English and French Canada are not willing to accommodate each other. As an example, Quebec is becoming more and more unilingual in French while other parts of Canada is becoming more and more unilingual in English. Furthermore, people living in Quebec associate themselves with the province Quebec instead of Canada. In 1995, 50% of the people supported the referendum for the separation of Quebec from Canada (Dube 2008). Therefore, from the fact that Quebec people’s increasing demand for autonomy and refuse to follow the Charter proves multiculturalism did not promote unity for the French and English speakers in Canada.
Third, language rights in Canada did not help Canada to create a special identity or common values (Meyerhoff 1994: 913). This is because with the bilingual language laws, it promotes equality between French and English. It weakens the Canadian identity since it stresses equality between differences but not commonality. For example, there is no specific Canadian culture but all sorts of different cultures in Canada like aboriginal cultures, English culture, French culture etc. Therefore language rights created a fuzzy national identity for Canadians.
After examining the advantages and disadvantages, it is clear that the language rights in Canada works ideally by trying to incorporate and preserve both English and French language and culture. Furthermore, ideally they wanted to promote equality and unity by doing so through the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom. However, in reality, it does not work out as perfectly as they planned.
For example, the Charter gave rise to the idea of building French community centers with French schools. These schools are specifically targeted to educate the French speaking minorities using French. They are built not only in specific provinces nowadays but in multiple provinces throughout Canada (Dube 2008). Hence one can see, although the Charter tries to promote equality between the languages, there are still some people who prefer to treat one language over another language.
Another example is bilingualism in courts. During trials, lawyers face the problem with not able to speak in their own language. This is due to the hassle that the court insists on using interpreters. Therefore, French is rarely used in court due to the fact that with interpreters, there might be a difference in the way an idea is expressed. Hence lawyers generally refrain from speaking French in courts (Dube 2008).
In conclusion, the language rights policy adopted by Canada is not effective. This is because ideally, it promotes both unity and equality to both English and French. However, the whole country does not only consist of English and French speakers, there are other minority groups such as aboriginals, Asians etc. By promoting only equality between English and French conflicts the ideal of promoting differences in culture and language. It only facilitates the minorities to assimilate into English and French speakers. Furthermore, with the referendum of Quebec separating from Canada supported by 50% of the voters, it really raises the question of where is the value in promoting equality in English and French when the French speaking community wants independence from the whole Canada. Therefore Canada’s language rights policy is ineffective.
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