by Michel A. Carrier
Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick
I was astonished by the Telegraph Journal’s editorial of last Saturday. What at first glance appeared to be a commentary in support of the Great Walk for Linguistic Equality turned into the dismissal of a most fundamental part of our societal project which strives for true equality for both official linguistic communities. Duality in education, which is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, was presented in this editorial as a divisive practice which hampers true equality.
Linguistic duality represents the true nature of New Brunswick: a province with two equal official linguistic communities. This is stated not only in the Act Recognizing the Equality of the Two Official Linguistic Communities in New Brunswick but also in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
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 and credible 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 the 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. The fact that the editorial implied otherwise is not only disturbing but could undermine any further efforts to improve dialogue between our two linguistic communities.