May 13, 2009
To whom it may concern,
Like many people in British Columbia and elsewhere in Canada, we have been following the debate which has erupted recently over the role of French in the 2010 Vancouver and Whistler Games. Initially centering on VANOC’s efforts to meet its commitments in this area, the debate has grown to become a more general one about official bilingualism, multiculturalism and the nature of Canadian federalism. This is a heavy burden for a sporting event to bear.
The facts are fairly straightforward: The Vancouver Organizing Committee has committed to delivering bilingual Games because of the linguistic duality of our nation, and the status of French and English as the official languages of the International Olympic Movement. VANOC’s commitment is identified in a multi-party agreement it signed in 2007.
Canadian Parents for French British Columbia & Yukon Branch - a provincial and territorial network of over 9,000 volunteers which values French as an integral part of Canada and which is dedicated to the promotion and creation of French Second Language learning opportunities for young Canadians - is in favour of making these Games the most bilingual in Canadian history. Before saying why we think this is so important, we wish to answer some of the objections we have heard or read against VANOC living up to its commitment on delivering bilingual Games.
Broadly speaking, they are:
In response, we would like to point out the following:
- British Columbia is an English-speaking province with an almost non-existent Francophone community;
- Official Languages have no support, neither in British Columbia nor in Canada;
- These are British Columbia’s Games, not Canada’s;
- The multicultural reality of British Columbia is that other languages, especially Mandarin, are more deserving of official status; and
- French is not an international language and other languages would be more useful to BC.
The 2010 Winter Games offer a wonderful opportunity to Canada and its westernmost province to showcase the many things that make us one of the best places on earth: Our scenery, our prosperity, our enthusiasm for sport and, yes, our linguistic duality. BC is a national leader in French Second Language programs - this is our chance to shine!
- While it is true that our province’s Francophone community is not particularly large – between 1.6 and 2% of the provincial population – it is quite old, its roots going back to the very beginning of European settlement. More importantly, this community is diverse, dynamic, well organized and growing. If you add to it people who speak French as a second or third language, including those who have French as their only Official Canadian language, then the number of French speakers grows to 300,000 – over 7% of the total provincial population.
- Official Languages have incredible support across the country – a 2007 CROP poll indicated that 81% of Canadians support bilingualism in Canada. And BC is no different, if the demand for French Immersion is anything to go by. French Immersion posted its 11th straight year of growth in the 2008/2009 school year. French Immersion students now comprise 7.3% of our total K-12 school population, and only a lack of resources keeps it from expanding at an even greater rate.
- All Canadians are investing in the Games through the financial contribution of the Federal government, and in that sense, the Games’ success will be a shared national endeavor in the tradition of Canadian Federalism. In addition, by playing host to visitors and athletes from across Canada, BC will have an opportunity to experience our country’s linguistic duality on a scale not seen since Expo 86.
- Multiculturalism and Official Bilingualism are not competing policies. The former is part of the latter, offering new Canadians a choice of belonging to one or the other of the country’s two dominant linguistic communities. The entire question of heritage languages such as Mandarin or Punjabi, for example, and how they transition into the broader culture, is a legitimate subject of debate outside the Games.
- Over 200,000,000 people worldwide speak French, including Asia and Micronesia. French is a big language, both domestically and internationally, as Canadian employers have come to realize. In a 2008 Ipso Reid survey, over 80 % of employers outside Québec stated that bilingual employees were an asset to their company.
For its part, Canadian Parents for French BC & Yukon will be supporting the 2010 Games by encouraging its members to take part in the Olympic torch relay in their communities. Many of the 42,000 French Immersion students in the province will be eligible for participation and volunteer opportunities youth are offered by the Games, and we will let them know about these. We hope to partner with the Francophone community in a celebration of the French language and Francophone cultures during the Games. From where we stand, Games that are not fully bilingual are Games that do not fully reflect the country we have become.
Robert Rothon, Executive Director
Canadian Parents for French BC & Yukon