Most Canadians are multilingual, and many speak French and English, which are the official languages of the country. However, Quebec is the only province in Canada where French is the official language and English is a minority language. About 7.7 percent of the province’s 8 million residents speak English or are Anglophones, while 78.1 percent are Francophones (French-speakers). What links this then to the formal language complaints?
On Tuesday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was attending a public meeting at Sherbrooke town hall in Quebec. Thus, members of the community, whether they are French or English speakers, are in attendance. The complaints stemmed from the fact that Trudeau responded in French to English questions. In one of the questions raised by an English speaker, the Trudeau was asked how the members of the English speaking community could have access to health services in Quebec. He promptly responded in French.
Another similar complaint was filed against the Prime Minster when he answered French questions in English when he attended a public meeting in Peterborough, Ontario. The de facto official language is English, with about 4 percent of Ontario’s population speaking French as their mother tongue, while 11 percent are bilingual.
Support for bilingualism
The Prime Minister insists that he firmly supports bilingualism, but the brouhaha that earned him the ire of minority language speakers continues. So far, there are 11 official language complaints that have been filed against Trudeau. Three of them came from the recent meeting in Sherbrooke, as confirmed by the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada’s Nelson Kalil. He added that the investigations into the complaints could take three to six months. This is because the council will not investigate the individuals, but will instead focus on whether the Official Languages Act was violated by the Privy Council office as it is the one that supports the Prime Minister.
When interviewed a day after the Sherbrooke meeting, Trudeau initially defended his decision. However, on Wednesday, during another interview, he changed his tune and said that he should have responded in English to the questions asked in that language. He also expressed surprise that many of the questions during the Sherbrooke meeting were delivered in English.
Some members of the Anglophone community in Sherborooke said that the Prime Minster’s actions were insulting, while others felt that they were disrespected. The president of the Townshippers’ Association, Gerald Cutting, who was at the meeting said he was shocked by the incident. The association represents the Anglophone community in Sherbrooke.
James Shea, the president of the Quebec Community Groups Network, which represents the English speaking communities in the province, also reacted to the Prime Minster’s actions. He said that even those who support the French language staunchly, such as René Lévesque, would not make such a mistake.
Philippe Couillard, Quebec Premier, who was in Davos for the economic summit, was asked for his reaction to the PM’s mistake. He said that while French is a common language in Quebec, he said that he responds to English speakers in his province in their own language. Parti Quebecois Leader Jean-Francois Lisee added that while Quebec predominantly speaks French, there is such a thing as courtesy.