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November 20th 2012

Duality in Education or Assimilation, by Michel A. Carrier, Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick

What at first glance appeared to be a positive news item about bilingualism in New Brunswick Seeking Bilingualism (Telegraph Journal, October 15), turned out to be a dismissal of the most fundamental part of the vitality of the Francophone community in New Brunswick: duality in the school system. Indeed, while reading the article, we learn that a prominent Canadian business leader, Mr. Richard Currie, says it is time New Brunswick did away with separate school and health systems in English and French.

Respectfully, Mr. Currie, like others recently, errs in addressing duality in education and in healthcare together and treating them as these are the same. They are not. Discussions with respect to equality in healthcare, while essential, are not based on the concept that we must have separate hospitals for each community. No one is advocating this, yet by connecting equality in healthcare with our education system, there is a great risk of misinforming the public and making it impossible for people to participate effectively in discussions or debates on the subject of healthcare.

Not only is duality in education essential, it is a constitutional right.

While English and French languages have equal legal status in this province, it should be easily understood that they do not face the same challenges when it comes to their vitality and protection. The French language in North America is in a constant state of fragility. Its survival and development require strong measures to prevent assimilation; hence, duality in education, our two school systems. In fact, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that each official linguistic community in New Brunswick has the right to “distinct educational institutions and such distinct cultural institutions as are necessary for the preservation and promotion of those communities”.

Duality in education is widely credited for greatly containing assimilation in the New Brunswick Francophone community. Indeed, our dual school system is not designed to divide but rather to ensure that both linguistic communities can fully develop and be truly equal.

The Report of the Committee on the Organization and Boundaries of School Districts in New Brunswick (1979), which preceded the reorganization of school districts on a linguistic basis, offers significant insight on the matter. I submit the following excerpt:

“when attempts are made to integrate two systems, one of which is weaker than the other, the lack of symmetry in bilateral relations will cause the integration process to weaken even further the weaker of the two parties. It may eventually become assimilated within a structure – in economic, social and cultural terms – not much different from that of the stronger party.” (Reviews of National Policies for Education, Canada, Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 1976)

Today, the English language is even more present globally  ̶  and virtually  ̶  and that creates more challenges for our Francophone community. Consequently, it should be clear to everyone that duality in education is even more essential.

Our Charter is clear with respect to the right to distinct educational institutions. That, in my opinion, is not debatable and does not have a place in the discussions surrounding the present review of our Official Languages Act. During this review, we must focus on improving the Act so that government can fully live up to its constitutional obligations to serve the public equally in both official languages and to foster equality between our two linguistic communities.