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Substantive Equality of Canada’s Official Languages Bill

Bill to Amend--Third Reading

June 15, 2023

Hon. Judith G. Seidman [ + ]

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak at third reading of Bill C-13, An Act to amend the Official Languages Act, to enact the Use of French in Federally Regulated Private Businesses Act and to make related amendments to other Acts.

Well, here we are at third reading. The Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages heard five and a half hours of testimony on this version of the bill, which includes over 50 amendments passed in the other place. Clause-by-clause consideration at the Official Languages Committee took place immediately following what was perhaps the most complex testimony of all, that of the legal and constitutional experts.

The committee was left with no time to reflect on this testimony or draft potential amendments as a result of what we heard before clause-by-clause consideration. The committee consideration process was, to say the least, swift.

The committee heard from Raymond Théberge, the Commissioner of Official Languages. I asked him whether he still shares similar concerns to those of the Quebec English‑speaking community that the addition of asymmetrical components to the act will undermine the equal status of English and French in law and about the references to Quebec’s Charte de la langue française, and he told the committee:

There’s a lot of speculation in terms of what could happen in the future. I really can’t speculate. There will be some constitutional experts who will provide input on that. I’ll leave it up to them. It is new, I agree. We have other jurisdictions that are referenced, not necessarily in this way.

By that, he meant in the way of the Charte de la langue française.

We do have New Brunswick, which has its own Official Languages Act. We have my home province, Manitoba, with section 23 of the Manitoba Act.

Colleagues, let me reiterate that neither New Brunswick’s nor Manitoba’s language laws are referenced in Bill C-13 in the same way as Quebec’s language law. The commissioner said that he will implement whatever act is adopted by Parliament, and he reflected:

It is what we have now, and what we have to do, moving forward, is ensure that we evaluate its impacts.

I think it’s important to evaluate the impacts of the Official Languages Act on the communities going forward, and we have to do that from the get-go.

I asked the Minister of Official Languages, the Honourable Ginette Petitpas Taylor, about the references to the newly amended Quebec language law, the Charte de la langue française. In response to my question, she said:

Yes, we referred to la Charte de la langue française in our Bill, but, again, the purpose is to indicate that this is the regime applicable in Quebec. We are not saying whether we agree or do not agree, but that is the legislation in force in Quebec at this point. I am not a constitutionaliste, I’m not a lawyer, but to your point, I absolutely have consulted with lawyers at the Justice Department . . . and they have indicated to us that they don’t feel that there are any risks — or minimum risks — to this. . . . With respect to why we proceeded, it is in order of describing what is the law.

But many of the judges and lawyers who testified before the Official Languages Committee did not share the Department of Justice’s evaluation.

As the Honourable Michel Bastarache, former judge of the Supreme Court of Canada, told our Official Languages Committee during the recent pre-study of Bill C-13, even before all the amendments were made by the House:

I am personally opposed to a reference to a provincial act in a federal act. I believe that the federal language regime is very different from the provincial regime.

In addition, Robert Leckey, Dean of the Faculty of Law at McGill University said:

Bill C-13 would add references to the Charter of the French Language to the Official Languages Act. These references would endorse the charter because they presuppose that the objectives and means promoted by the provincial legislation are consistent with those of the federal legislation and the constitutional responsibilities of the Government of Canada. However, this premise is not sound.

And in a letter to the chair of the Standing Committee on Official Languages, or LANG, in the other place, as well as in her testimony to the Senate’s Official Languages Committee, Ms. Janice Naymark, who has practised corporate and commercial law in Quebec for over 25 years, was clear that:

. . . troubling are the references to the Quebec Charter of the French Language in a quasi-constitutional federal law. [...] By including references to this legislation in the [Official Languages Act], the federal government is supporting and implicitly legitimatizing [Quebec’s] Bill 96.

As you can see, colleagues, there is hardly consensus within the legal community regarding the references to the Charte de la langue française, so why are we complicating the legislation and creating even minimum risk for English-speaking Quebecers?

As an official language minority community, English speakers in Quebec have historically looked to the federal government for protection and support, but as Eva Ludvig, President of the Quebec Community Groups Network, remarked:

We live in a province where the English-speaking community, especially recently, has been under siege, I would say, from its own provincial government. We’ve always turned to the federal government and to the Canadian Parliament as supporters of the English-speaking community. We are now worried. We feel that this support is now tenuous.

Colleagues, as I pointed out in my second reading speech, while more than 600,000 of Quebec’s over 1 million English speakers live in Montreal, there are tens of thousands more in small communities across the province. I urge you to consider the official language minority communities in the rest of Quebec. Given the critical mass of English speakers in Montreal, services may well remain accessible there, but we cannot take for granted that those same services will remain accessible in the smaller communities.

The English-speaking communities in Quebec must now take solace in the Commissioner of Official Languages’ promise to monitor the impact of the implementation of Bill C-13. As he wrote in a letter to our committee on June 7:

It is crucial that the implementation of the Act be closely monitored in order to assess its impact and identify any problems encountered in its application. The government needs to have a monitoring mechanism, clear indicators and evidence-based data to be able to assess the effects of the Act on communities. This approach will help to realize the full potential of the periodic review and to make the changes needed to ensure the Act’s continued evolution.

Should the commissioner find that the fears of the English‑speaking communities in Quebec come to pass, I hope this chamber will be as swift to address them as it was to pass Bill C-13.

Honourable colleagues, as we are all mindful of, it is our responsibility here in the Senate to give voice to those who have no voice and to represent minorities in our regions. I fully understand how important modernization of the Official Languages Act is to francophone minority communities across Canada, and I fully support the protection and promotion of French minority language rights across the country.

I fully understand the importance of ensuring the survival and vitality of French for Quebec and Quebecers. However, inclusion of reference to Quebec’s Charter of the French Language, with its latest legislative entrenchment of the pre-emptive use of the “notwithstanding” clause, does nothing to help protect French; it only brings unnecessary risks to the other official language minority community, the more than 1 million English speakers in Quebec.

Thus, colleagues, I will be voting against this bill. Thank you.

Hon. Marty Klyne [ + ]

Honourable senators, I rise to speak to Bill C-13, an important piece of government legislation to protect and promote the French language in Canada.

I note as well that Bill C-13 fulfills a government election commitment. This is always an essential consideration in our appointed chamber, as Senators Harder and Dalphond and others have highlighted many times in the Senate’s independent era.

After a substantial pre-study, we received Bill C-13 in May. I will address some concerns I have with the bill around airports in Western Canada through my Saskatchewan lens, while fully supporting Bill C-13’s objective of protecting and promoting French and minority language rights in Canada.

I will start with the big picture. French is one of Canada’s official languages, a point of pride for our federation and for me personally, including through my lineage with my Quebec-born fifth-, fourth- and third-great-grandparents. Our international identity, our shared history and many Canadian cultural conditions reflect our place within the Francophonie. It is essential to protect French, a language at risk of erosion in mainly English-speaking North America and a language integral to Quebecers, Acadians and other French Canadians, not to mention Cajuns in Louisiana, whom the British drove from Acadia in the 18th century.

Métis and many First Nations learned to speak French and English in the years of equal dealings between nations. The Métis were proficient in French, English and Indigenous languages, making them sought after by the Hudson’s Bay Company trading system. They often acted as interpreters, trade negotiators, clerks and guides leading voyageurs and explorers. Europeans otherwise could not have navigated this vast country of complex water systems and the passes through the rugged mountain chains.

However, Canada’s two official languages don’t account for the many Indigenous languages spoken by peoples who have been here since time immemorial.

Samuel de Champlain’s success in establishing New France relied on cultivating alliances and respectful relationships with First Nations. In 1603, the Innu Chief Anadabijou welcomed Champlain at a celebratory feast to set the terms of the great alliance for a French presence in the country. Many scholars argue this nation-to-nation moment, taking place at Tadoussac, where the Saguenay River meets the St. Lawrence, was the true beginning of Quebec and even Canada.

Though damaged by later colonial policies, Indigenous languages are vital to our nation of nations. Section 22 of our Charter makes clear that official language rights do not abrogate or derogate from Indigenous language rights. With Canada’s linguistic future, we remain a long way from restoring Indigenous languages’ rightful roles in our society.

We need to do a better job of promoting and protecting these languages, many of which are seriously in danger of falling out of use. Parliament acted by passing Bill C-91 on Indigenous languages in 2019. Former senators Joyal and Sinclair worked together on language rights, helping set the table for Bill C-91 through Senator Joyal’s earlier efforts with Bill S-212 on Indigenous languages. This is an inspiring example of solidarity of minority linguistic communities in Canada.

In speaking to Bill S-212, Senator Sinclair asked:

“Who are you?” It’s not a rhetorical question. It’s a question which asks you to contemplate the fundamental question of your identity and character. To be able to answer that, you need to know where you and your ancestors came from, what you stood for, your personal and collective history, what your influences have been, what your ambitions have been and are, and what your purpose in life is. . . .

Language and culture are keys to personal identity. Personal identity is key to a sense of self-worth, and spiritual and mental wellness hinge on one’s sense of self-worth.

I want to see Indigenous youth fluent in their languages. One day, I want to see conversations happening with non-Indigenous Canadians in those languages. I note that Minister Miller has endeavoured to learn Mohawk.

Focusing on French, we know that the Official Languages Act was a landmark step when enacted in 1969. It recognized and protected Canada’s predominant linguistic duality in terms of population. We can contrast the Official Languages Act with the Durham Report of 1839, which proposed the assimilation of French speakers in Lower Canada.

Bill C-13 is the first time the Official Languages Act has been substantially updated in many years. I support this bill’s goals of protecting and promoting French and its efforts to support minority language communities.

If I have any caution or concern about this bill, it’s that, as we move towards a more fully bilingual country, we must do so with a clear understanding of where most Canadians are when it comes to speaking both official languages. In this regard, I wear my Saskatchewan hat, and my focus is on practicalities and obligations on airports in Western Canada.

In most Canadian cities, towns and communities, there is one predominant language spoken by most people who live there. Most citizens have only a limited knowledge of the other official language, whether that happens to be French or English. There are exceptions, of course, as we can see from communities in Quebec, New Brunswick, Manitoba, Ontario and in other provinces. Yet, most Canadians are proficient in either English or French and not the other.

Bill C-13 hopes to change that reality, and I support that goal. At the same time, if we are going to ask businesses and federally regulated sectors to embrace enhanced bilingual requirements, then we need to do so with a realistic understanding of where most Canadians are when it comes to speaking an official language that is not their mother tongue.

Part 2 of the bill speaks to or defines what is considered a strong francophone presence and expectations of federally regulated businesses. How does the bill apply to communities and/or businesses’ workforce in regions that have minimal or minor francophone representation and are federally regulated?

Take, for example, my home province of Saskatchewan. In 2020, the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages noted that French is the mother tongue of about 1.5% of the population. That’s a very minor representation among the people who live there. There is no question that francophone Saskatchewanians should have their language rights protected and supported, especially when they are engaging with federally regulated services. However, we need to be mindful that transitioning to a more fully bilingual country will take time and commitment, especially in places like Saskatchewan, where French speakers are a minority. That said, in Saskatchewan, a province of at least 1.2 million people, there are at least five francophone communities that I can think of. We also have French immersion schools and a growing and thriving representation of Fransaskois residing around the province’s largest cities.

Yet for many youth, particularly those facing poverty in their early years, learning a second language is a difficult hill to climb, even if they have the opportunity.

Parliament has heard many voices both for and against the legislation. Those in favour of the bill cite its support for the promotion of French and protection of minority language communities. Those who have expressed concerns about the bill have talked about its potential impact on English-speaking Quebecers and have raised questions on how the bill’s provisions will be implemented.

To discuss one concern I have, I will use an example that was highlighted in the annual report recently tabled by Raymond Théberge, the Commissioner of Official Languages.

In one part of his report, the commissioner noted that many Canadians still struggle to receive service in the official language of their choice when flying in major airports.

This is a concern for many Canadians who, as part of the travelling public, want to use their preferred — or perhaps only — language on a journey. I sympathize with that concern. Major airports already have obligation under Part IV of the Official Languages Act. When those obligations are not met, it can be frustrating, particularly for francophones.

In his report, the commissioner notes that he has been working with airports to ensure stronger compliance with the act, and that he believes the new powers Bill C-13 will give him will help achieve that goal.

At the same time, some organizations in the travel industry, such as airport authorities, have expressed concern about the additional powers that would be granted to the commissioner. This bill gives the commissioner added powers to enter compliance agreements, to issue orders and to impose administrative monetary penalties in the travel sector. This may be an important step in helping make Canada more bilingual. However, if organizations, such as airport authorities in places like Regina and Saskatoon, struggle to meet orders due to staffing challenges associated with finding staff who can speak French, then that’s a dynamic that must be navigated with a lot of care.

I note that the Senate Official Languages Committee added an observation in their report indicating confusion over the language rights regime for Canada’s travelling public, recommending that the federal government should:

. . . establish a coherent and clear language rights regime for the travelling public . . . .

That’s a good idea. I believe we need further clarity in this area so that airport authorities, airlines, the government and Canadians can move forward with a shared understanding.

Senators, we need to ensure that we do not accidentally burden businesses and organizations that operate in largely unilingual communities with bilingual language commitments that they will be unable to meet. It is difficult to find francophone speakers in Saskatchewan simply because they are under-represented.

In Saskatchewan, our unemployment rate is 4.4%, and we are looking for employees. We are building more houses and rental alternatives if bilingual professionals and skilled tradespeople are interested in living, working and playing in our great province.

Regional differences and francophone representation vary across Canada. With this bill, I believe there is no one-size-fits-all solution that will work. In places like Regina or Saskatoon, where French speakers are relatively few, increasing bilingual services is easier said than done. That’s a reality we need to be mindful of. At the same time, we wish to respect and embrace this point of unique international identity and ensure we’re not alienating Western Canadians from our federation’s linguistic values.

I expect that all senators in this chamber support helping more Canadians become bilingual and to receive services in the language of their choice, but we must work toward this goal in a way that acknowledges the realities of a country where most people currently only speak one language. For that reason, I expect the Senate will continue to play an oversight and accountability role in the application of Bill C-13, including providing critical evaluation and recommendations that might be necessary, while basing that role in respect of French, English and Indigenous languages.

I will vote for Bill C-13, and urge you to do the same. I similarly urge this chamber to oversee and safeguard the reasonable interests of airports in Western Canada, and ensure that we offer practical solutions as we move toward becoming a more bilingual country. Thank you, hiy kitatamihin.

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak at third reading of Bill C-13, whose short title is an act for the substantive equality of Canada’s official languages.

I support this bill, although I think it represents just a small step and could have gone further.

In this speech, I’ll provide a few examples of important measures that I think are missing from this bill. I believe they would have served to better protect and promote respect for Canada’s two official languages, French and English.

On February 8, 2022, I gave a speech in the Senate on official languages. In that speech, I expressed my support for the motion that later passed unanimously in the Senate, on March 29, 2022, calling on the federal government to correct an unacceptable situation that has persisted for decades. Even today, 41 years after the passage of the Constitution Act, 1982, large sections of the Canadian Constitution are still written only in English.

What a missed opportunity for the federal government not to have included in Bill C-13 the measure called for by the Senate in that motion.

The Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages shares my disappointment.

In its report on Bill C-13 tabled the day before yesterday, the committee recalls the content of the motion. It simply asked the government to do the following:

 . . . “consider, in the context of the review of the Official Languages Act, the addition of a requirement to submit, every 12 months, a report detailing the efforts made to comply with section 55 of the Constitution Act, 1982.”

Senator Dalphond, who was the sponsor of the motion, asked Minister Lametti a question on December 13, 2022, when he appeared before a Senate committee that was studying another bill. The senator reminded him of the sad reality that although the Constitution Act, 1982, was adopted 41 years ago, nothing has been done since to adopt the French text of the Constitution.

The minister acknowledged that the situation was unacceptable, but that he would continue to reflect on how to adopt the French texts of the constitutional laws, which are the most important laws in Canada.

Senator Dalphond reminded us, as I also reminded senators in the speech I gave on his motion on February 8, 2022, that there are a number of French constitutional texts that the federal government could have adopted through a procedure that doesn’t require the provinces’ consent. For those texts that do require the consent of some or all of the provinces to be adopted in French, Minister Lametti gave Senator Dalphond an answer that clearly shows the government’s lack of determination and action in getting those French texts adopted. Here is the question that Senator Dalphond asked. He said, and I quote: “Why won’t the government commit to making an effort to get this part of the 1982 constitutional work completed?”

The minister’s answer was vague and non-committal. He said, and I quote:

I share your opinion. I’d like to see an official bilingual Constitution. What I can tell you is that sometimes you have to rely on evolution. So, I hope that in the near future and at the right time, we can do that.

In its June 13, 2023, report, which I mentioned earlier, the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages pointed out other serious flaws in Bill C-13.

The committee shares my concern about the lack of accurate data on the number of children of rights-holders, meaning children who are entitled to be educated in the minority official language. I believe that the federal government could have fixed this problem if it had amended Bill C-13 to make it a requirement that these children be periodically enumerated.

In fact, the committee correctly notes that the current version of the bill does not include a requirement to count these children, but simply includes a requirement to estimate the number. In this excerpt from its report, the Senate committee stresses the urgent and serious nature of the problem:

However, given the alarming decline of French in Canada, several stakeholders argued for the importance of counting, rather than estimating, the number of children of rights‑holders, given the detrimental impact and pressures to assimilate resulting from systemic and historical underestimation. . . .

Based on the testimony heard and briefs received, your committee notes that periodic enumeration of the children of rights-holders is critical to the survival and vitality of francophone minority communities . . . .

In light of such a disturbing observation, and one that is common knowledge, I was very disappointed by the results of the vote at the House of Commons Committee on Official Languages on February 17, 2023. In a close vote, six of the 11 committee members rejected the original text of MP Joël Godin’s amendment. Had it been adopted, this amendment would have required that the federal government commit to periodically enumerating the children of rights-holders under section 23 of the Charter.

The six Liberal and NDP members of the committee voted in favour of a subamendment that completely watered down the Conservative member’s amendment. Indeed, their amendment to the amendment replaced the requirement to count, as proposed by Mr. Godin, with a simple obligation to estimate the number of children.

Another missed opportunity was the bill’s failure to incorporate an important proposal from the 2021 white paper released by the Honourable Mélanie Joly, the then minister of official languages. She proposed expanding the powers conferred on the Treasury Board so that it could monitor federal institutions’ compliance with the provisions of Part VII of the Official Languages Act. This part of the act is very important because it seeks to advance the equality of status and use of English and French.

The duties of the Treasury Board, as currently proposed in Bill C-13, do not include all aspects of Part VII. Despite these missed opportunities, I will nonetheless be supporting Bill C-13. In her speech at second reading, the bill’s critic, Senator Poirier, said, and I quote:

The bill represents a step forward for language rights in this country. . . .

Thanks to some amendments made by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages, the modernization of the Official Languages Act is more responsive to the needs of minority communities.

I agree with her, and we are not the only ones who think this way, because 104 Conservative MPs voted in favour of the bill at third reading. Only one MP, from another party, voted against it.

I could list many worthwhile measures in Bill C-13, but since I only have a limited amount of time, I will just choose two.

The first has to do with the adoption of a federal immigration policy. That is particularly important today, when we hit the population milestone of 40 million. The original version of Bill C-13 provided for the adoption of that policy.

However, the amendments that were made to the bill strengthened and clarified the policy’s objectives. That is what Liane Roy, president of the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada, told the Senate committee on June 5. She said, and I quote:

 . . . it was important to us that this policy have the explicit objective of restoring the demographic weight of our communities.

The members of the House of Commons set the target at 6.1%, which is the proportion that our communities accounted for in 1971.

This paves the way for a much higher federal francophone immigration target, and for immigration measures specifically tailored to the realities of our communities.

The 6.1% target referred to by Ms. Roy will be enshrined in the Official Languages Act, thanks to clause 6(2) of Bill C-13.

The second example I have of a worthwhile measure in Bill C-13 has to do with bilingualism at the Supreme Court of Canada. The bill establishes an institutional bilingualism requirement for the Supreme Court, but does not require all of the court’s nine judges to be bilingual.

On this matter, I agree with the interpretation of the Leader of the Government in the Senate. On May 30, 2023, in an exchange regarding this obligation in Bill C-13, he confirmed that, and I quote:

 . . . this does not mean that every judge appointed to the Supreme Court or any other Supreme Court must be bilingual, fluent or otherwise. That is not what the legislation requires. It is an institutional obligation on the court as an institution . . . .

It is important to note that the hearing of an appeal at the Supreme Court is done with a quorum of at least five judges. The obligation set out in Bill C-13 would require the court to have at least five bilingual judges so that it can always have a quorum of bilingual judges able to understand the evidence and the arguments, whether in English or in French, without the help of an interpreter.

Accordingly, Bill C-13 will not deny exceptionally talented jurists who are not perfectly bilingual the opportunity of applying for appointment to the Supreme Court.

If Bill C-13 had set out an obligation of individual bilingualism, in other words, required all nine justices of the Supreme Court to be perfectly bilingual, I believe this would likely contravene section 16 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and section 133 of the Constitution Act, 1867.

I already said as much in a speech in the Senate on May 11, 2010, when I stated the following:

Section 16 creates a duty for the judicial institution to ensure that the judge who hears the case understands the language of the party. It does not require the judge to be bilingual. There is no prerequisite for a judge to be bilingual because that would violate a judge’s right guaranteed in Section 133 . . . .

For all these reasons, I invite you to vote in favour of the bill. As the Commissioner of Official Languages wrote on June 7, 2023, to the Senate Committee on Official Languages, and I quote:

Although the Bill is not perfect, I think it contains the necessary foundation for moving forward.

It is crucial that the implementation of the Act be closely monitored in order to assess its impact and identify any problems encountered in its application.

Thank you.

Hon. Lucie Moncion [ + ]

Honourable senators, I rise today to speak on the unceded territory of the Anishinaabe Algonquin Nation at third reading of Bill C-13, an act for the substantive equality of Canada’s official languages.

In speaking to this bill, I must once again acknowledge the colonial nature of official languages and point out the importance of supporting Indigenous people in the reclamation, revitalization and strengthening of Indigenous languages in Canada.

We know that the time to review the Indigenous Languages Act is quickly approaching. I would like to remind senators, as we also did in the report of the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages, that this act provides for an independent review within five years of its coming into force, which was on June 21, 2019.

It will be our duty to vigilantly monitor that work to make sure that it is done in accordance with the requirements of the act, and especially in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. More specifically, our report indicates that this work must be done in the following manner, and I quote:

In the spirit of reconciliation and decolonization, your committee expects the federal government to meet — and exceed — minimum legal expectations in respecting the governance and self-determination rights of Canada’s Indigenous peoples.

The decolonization of Canada’s language rights regime, as called for in our Official Languages Committee report, cannot be achieved within the restrictive framework of the Official Languages Act. This work requires adequate time and space, as my colleague Senator Cormier, the bill’s sponsor, explained in his speech in reference to Warren Newman, Senior General Counsel, Constitutional, Administrative and International Law Section at the Department of Justice Canada, during his testimony before our committee.

In the context of the development of identity-related legislation, Mr. Newman told us that we must respect the different fields of application and the raison d’être of each act, which shall be interpreted in a harmonious and complementary manner.

These principles of interpretation allow me to be optimistic about the future of Indigenous languages. Official language minority communities will be allies in the cause, knowing full well the role of language in the construction — or even reconstruction — of identity. We are and will remain in solidarity with Canada’s Indigenous peoples.

This brings me to the decline of French in Canada, and a justifiably asymmetrical approach. This steady decline in the demographic weight of francophones in the country has pushed the government to propose a reform with an asymmetrical approach.

Although this principle has long been recognized in jurisprudence, it has arguably always been theoretical or even unrealistic in its implementation.

A simple reading of the extensive jurisprudence illustrates the systemic unequal relationship between official language minorities and the majority in a given province. Inequalities are worse when the minority language is French.

Along with a remedial nature and a broad, liberal interpretation of language rights, the principle of substantive equality is one of the key principles for interpreting the provisions of Bill C-13.

By proposing this asymmetrical approach, the government is trying to give meaning to the principle of substantive equality between the two languages, knowing that the vulnerability and fragility of the French language in Canada and North America legitimize and justify this approach.

In an article published today in the newspaper Francopresse, François Larocque, the University of Ottawa Research Chair on Language Rights, was quoted as saying:

To achieve substantive, not formal, equality, we need to do more for the more vulnerable side.

He is convinced that:

 . . . the generic reference to the Charter [of the French Language] will not erase more than 40 years of jurisprudence . . . . Principles of interpretation have been established and will not disappear [because of the reference to the charter].

This asymmetry is particularly disturbing for Quebec anglophones, who have many concerns and views diametrically opposed to those of their provincial government. I understand their concerns, as I belong to an official language minority community. Provincial policy can, indeed, be crushing for official language minorities. We must therefore remain vigilant.

During the pre-study, our committee received contradictory testimony and briefs on whether it would be appropriate to include a reference to the Charter of the French Language in the Official Languages Act and in the use of French in federally regulated private businesses act. How, you may ask, do we sort out these positions? It was the other place, really, that decided that question.

The grievances of both official language communities in Quebec monopolized proceedings in the other place, which then delayed the bill’s arrival in the Senate. The passage of Bill C-13 by the House of Commons was fraught with uncertainty for several weeks, but an agreement on 11 amendments between the Government of Quebec and the Liberal government unblocked this bill.

I respect the legitimacy, urgency and importance of studying and debating these issues. However, the length of the debate on the situation in Quebec definitely limited the legislator’s ability to pay equal attention to the linguistic rights of official language minorities elsewhere in the country.

The Senate has been studying this matter for a very long time and we understand it very well. That is fortunate, because otherwise it would have been impossible for us to vote on such a bill, which had many amendments in the other place, after less than eight hours of study in committee.

Esteemed colleagues, you will see that I am satisfied with Bill C-13 and its amendments. I mentioned that in my speech at second reading. However, because I care so much about francophone and minority language rights, I must say how disappointed and displeased I am that the Senate was given a very limited amount of time to study the bill.

We all know it: The end of the session is approaching, and several bills must cross the finish line before the Senate adjourns for the summer. I feel uneasy about studying a bill under these circumstances, particularly one that will have such a major impact on official language minorities and on the survival of a language, a culture and an identity, however pluralistic, diverse and colourful it may be.

As a counterweight to the House of Commons, the upper chamber is mandated to look after the rights and interests of minorities and regions by acting as a chamber of sober second thought. This work complements that of the lower house, which is made up of elected representatives, and where partisanship reigns.

Discussions in the committee in the other place have sometimes given the impression that the understanding of Canadian bilingualism is no more advanced than it was when Hugh MacLennan wrote Two Solitudes in 1945. I would hope that this notion is now outdated, and that we aspire to a less divided vision of Canadian society. By listening to each other, understanding each other’s grievances and empathizing with the most vulnerable groups, we can counter these tendencies towards divisive identity and language politics.

Despite this dissatisfaction with the process, I would like to express my strong support for this bill, as its adoption is vital to the survival of our communities.

In 1997, Justice L’Heureux-Dubé, in the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Lifchus, gave an eloquent metaphor for bilingualism and minority rights by offering a more unifying vision than MacLennan’s two solitudes.

She said, and I quote:

Bilingualism and minority language rights are forever as closely linked as Romeo with Juliet or Oberon with Titania and they must be presented together as a unit.

As I tried to show at second reading, Bill C-13 is of capital importance to the survival of francophone minority communities. Canadian bilingualism is the bearer of the rights of its linguistic minorities.

In a more optimistic spirit, I’d like to share another observation that is in the report of the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages and has to do with the Official Languages Act keeping vigil.

This allays the concerns I just talked to you about and seems especially important for what comes next. As the Commissioner of Official Languages reminded us during our study in committee, we have a bill that, although imperfect, is very acceptable. Now, it will be important for the government to have an effective and comprehensive mechanism for overseeing the implementation of this legislation.

This mechanism should assess compliance by entities subject to the act with its various provisions and include appropriate indicators, particularly the demographic weight of francophone minorities and the enumeration of the children of rights-holders. This oversight role will be exercised mainly by the Treasury Board, but also by the commissioner, with the support of Statistics Canada primarily through the short-form census.

The Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages could also provide this oversight by inviting the different departments and stakeholders to appear. This will make it possible to provide timely follow-up and identify trends in the demographic weight of francophones and the enumeration of the children of rights-holders.

Esteemed colleagues, the work is just beginning, or, actually, beginning again. However, this time it is no longer utopian and we have a real chance of success. Surviving as a francophone in a minority situation means being constantly vigilant and worrying about preserving one’s language from one generation to the next when confronted with the many different pressures to assimilate and to conform to the anglonormativity found across the country.

It could be a lack of services provided in French by an entity subject to the act. However, sometimes and quite often, the injustices are more pernicious and harmful when it comes to health services, the numerous and costly barriers to asserting our rights in court, or the lack of access to a continuum of education in one’s mother tongue in one’s home region.

On that subject, I would like to quote from the 2020 decision of the Supreme Court in Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique v. British Columbia, which reminds us of the raison d’être of section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms:

A school is much more than just a place to pass on theoretical and practical knowledge. It is also a setting for socialization where students can converse with one another and develop their potential in their own language and, in using it, familiarize themselves with their culture. That is the spirit in which the right to receive instruction in one of Canada’s official languages was elevated to constitutional status by means of s. 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms . . . .

It’s important to give credit where credit is due. The Senate, and in particular the Official Languages Committee, whose chair, Senator Cormier, I congratulate, has laid the foundations for this legislative reform. We successfully presented the organizing principles for a piece of legislation that could effectively reverse the downward trend in the demographic weight of francophones and improve access to education in the minority language, which makes me optimistic for the future of our communities and their survival.

Colleagues, I encourage you to vote in favour of this bill, while recognizing that the process has been imperfect and that, in future, it would be wise to respect the unique role of the upper chamber, which legislates with particular attention to the interests of minorities and the regions.

In closing, please allow me to borrow the words of Yves Duteil in his song La langue de chez nous:

It is a beautiful language with splendid words

whose history can be traced in its variations . . .

It is a beautiful language to those who know how to defend it

It offers treasures of untold richness . . .

Bill C-13 allows us as francophones to take our place, today and in the future, so that we can create a better tomorrow by reaching out to one another. Thank you very much.

Hon. Michèle Audette [ + ]

[Editor’s Note: Senator Audette spoke in Innu-aimun.]

I’ve been looking forward to sharing my love, my emotions, but also my experience as a senator in speaking to Bill C-13, for the substantive equality of Canada’s official languages.

I’ve noticed that you have a great deal of passion for those living in a vulnerable situation, in regions where there’s no French at all in downtown areas, where signage is strictly in English. My son lives in Vancouver and I want him to keep speaking French, my granddaughter too, but it is tougher.

I see things across Canada, but I’ve seen things here too: the passion, the determination, but especially the fear of losing and I understand that. I’ve tried not to scare you, but I’ve remained true to myself, true in my approach and in my words. We’ve all travelled, we’ve all enjoyed other places. Everywhere we go, the language is the first thing we hear. Sometimes, we notice the difference. It is the language that gives us an identity, a culture, a relationship with the land and also rights, responsibilities, a history, a contemporary life, but also aspirations for the future.

It’s the same here in Canada. It’s the same here, in this big, beautiful chamber. I’m certain everyone heard the president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami in 2018 when he brought out his bill to have Inuktitut recognized as an official language.

It didn’t work; it turned into a law for indigenous languages. However, it was important for the Inuit. They are the ones who live in the North but can be found throughout Canada. However, it was decided otherwise.

I try to speak English too, although sometimes it’s more like “franglais.” Thank you for being patient when I invent words. I can see from the look in your eyes when you don’t understand what I’ve said, but you are patient. Otherwise, I ask someone —

“Can you repeat what you are saying?”

That is my day-to-day reality. However, I also speak French. I learned it. As I have already said, my father is the most amazing Quebecer, but my mother is Innu. You will understand that I carry both identities. That is my responsibility. Every time a bill deals with languages, you will hear me say that Innu-aimun is also an official language. However, I haven’t gone to court yet, or found a lawyer yet, even though I’m surrounded by lawyers. It is not up to me to take that step, it is up to my nation and the other nations, and it is also up to you.

The international community will also say, and UNESCO will say, that Indigenous languages around the world, and even in Canada, are the vulnerable languages. They can even be classified as being at risk, vulnerable, seriously endangered or quite simply critically endangered.

So I understand you. I felt that you understand me, but we don’t have the same rights. That is when we start to wonder how we will bridge the gap and find ways to ensure that our rights can eventually line up.

I don’t want to have to keep going to court for that to happen. In any case, it would be too expensive for me, much less my nation. We already have too many cases before the courts.

That duality also inspires me when I look at the bill, because it will defend French, which is extremely important. As for the situation of the English-speaking minority, it is the same for the Naskapi, the Innu and the Cree, who were required to learn English. Mary May Simon was forced to learn English, and she was not allowed to study in French. With what is happening in Quebec, that becomes another legal and systemic barrier. That is yet another concern.

There is also something else I keep thinking about. Maybe someone can clarify. We keep hearing the term “Charter of the French Language.” Isn’t it just a legal tool to prevent the nations from challenging this issue before the Quebec courts? Some say no and some say yes, so it will be important to consider that perspective in the studies and analyses. Sometimes we do things and then realize later that we need to make adjustments. You know that I’m right about that. However, I know that it is important when a language is in a dangerous or precarious position.

You heard Senator Downe say that he felt as though we missed a historic opportunity to add Indigenous languages to the preamble or to mention it as one of the founding languages. What harm would that have done? I just have 60 amendments on that to present this evening. That was an Innu joke.

All that is to say that I am convinced that this will be added in 10 years. Something tells me that it will be added. There is the Indigenous Languages Act, but it doesn’t have the same teeth as the Official Languages Act. The commissioners don’t have the same powers at all.

You will tell me that it is not the same, but for me it is, because I am the first in the family to not pass on Innu-aimun. That hurts. It took an inquiry on Indigenous women and girls to once again say, “Let’s go. The provinces, territories and Canada need to add our Indigenous languages to their big book of official languages.”

Perhaps I will see it happen when I am a ghost haunting the Senate, but I would like to see it happen before that. Right after I was appointed, I met with the minister and I wished her good luck. We talked, and it was very pleasant and friendly, but there were still four things that I said to her. First I said, “Make sure that Indigenous languages are mentioned in the preamble. That is important. Words are important. Words make up paragraphs, paragraphs make up bills and so on.”

Then it will have to pass the test under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. That part is not a given. I’m not sure, but we will see how the analysis goes.

Then I said to the minister, “I hope you and your team will get involved with the stewards, linguists, technolinguists and lawyers. Go see them and tell them where we can build bridges to make this more effective and to make sure that when I go to a federal organization, I can hear what is happening in my Indigenous language, and of course in English or French as well.”

That didn’t happen. I’m told that it should be in the Indigenous Languages Act. I’m certain that a balance could have been achieved, if we’d had the time. I was told that we would have the time in this place. I have some time, until 2040, in fact. We’ll have the time to thoroughly analyze this. However, I can tell you that for this one, it happened fast, too fast. So much so, in fact, that emotionally, it caused tension between friends and colleagues. I had a hard time with this situation, but I recovered after 24 or 48 hours.

Let’s make sure that when we get up and talk about reconciliation, when we talk about royal commissions, when we talk about commissions of inquiry into issues relating to Indigenous women, when we talk about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Canadians and the government have ordered us to do these things to give us social projects, particularly regarding languages. How can we harmonize, how can we coexist, how can we ensure that today I’m 17 — even if I’m 51 because of the Indian Act — and that I get the same rights and protections that we’re going to give to linguistic minority communities?

I have confidence. I’m patient, most of the time, though not always. However, I will not give up, I will never give up. Some of you know me, but if you don’t, let me assure you, I will not give up.

I have no issue telling Mr. Marc Miller or the next minister responsible for Indigenous relations, or the next minister responsible for Indigenous health or economic development, that the government is refusing to translate into an Indigenous language a success story between the nation and the government, the success of a federal department. I think that in this case as well, it should be added to the study to make sure that someone takes responsibility for it. If one day, I disclose something to a commissioner, I hope that the commissioner will have the power to make good recommendations, to ensure that there is no fear when making amendments or making this law more effective.

I hope you’ll be back. I hope that one day, we’ll manage to ensure that Indigenous peoples are entitled to 5% of music in the eyes of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, that it will not be considered foreign music, particularly considering that we were the ones who welcomed you when you arrived.

[Editor’s Note: Senator spoke in Innu-aimun.]

Hon. Percy Mockler [ + ]

Honourable senators, when I was growing up back east, I never would have thought I’d have the opportunity this evening, after many years in politics — whether in the New Brunswick Legislative Assembly or in the Canadian Senate — to take part in the great debate on official languages.

What I am going to do this evening is remind senators of certain events relating to New Brunswick that I have heard about and that occurred across Canada and involved various ministers of different governments.

Honourable senators, I believe that we must remind ourselves. We all know that Canadian nation building was — and still is — an exercise of constant compromise.

It was approximately 56 years ago, in a couple of weeks — in 1967 — that I was exposed to official languages when I met, at the age of 18, Premier Louis Robichaud and he introduced me, “to the dossier of languages, English and French in Canada, Percy.”

I would like to commend the Honourable Senator Audette, who often speaks about a language for Indigenous people, the Indigenous language, because I also wanted to comment on that file.

This evening, I am rising as a proud francophone and Canadian to speak to Bill C-13, an act for the substantive equality of Canada’s official languages.

Promoting French and English and protecting minorities has always been at the core of my political engagement, whether in Ottawa or Fredericton, throughout my career, since I have spent nearly 40 years in various legislatures.

Honourable senators, I would be remiss if I did not quote what two premiers, Louis J. Robichaud, a Liberal, and Richard Hatfield, a Conservative, said in 1968. As Louis J. Robichaud said so well in February 1968, and I quote:

 . . . New Brunswick will become officially and practically a province of two official languages — English and French — within the context of a new national regime . . . .

I am convinced that the course of action to which the government of New Brunswick is pledged will contribute much to the unity and renewal of our nation, even as it will ensure the cultural and linguistic equality of the citizens of this province.

He continued by saying the following, and I quote:

I think this is a fair bill and if all of us want to treat it fairly, implement it fairly and harmoniously, I believe it will lead to much better understanding in New Brunswick.

I believe that, given what I’ve heard, seen and read about Bill C-13 tonight, honourable senators, it will lead to better understanding within this beautiful country called Canada. It’s a step in the right direction.

Now I’d like to quote former premier Richard Hatfield, who came to power following the Louis J. Robichaud government and with whom I had the honour of serving between 1982 and 1987 when he was the youngest premier in the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick. I listened carefully to Richard Hatfield and learned from his leadership style. He spoke these words in 1968, but they are still very relevant in 2023. He said, and I quote:

Our attitude to change should not be one of rejecting the past and the experiences of a century; it should not be one of preserving the past simply because it exists. Our attitude should be to seek out the areas where renewal may be required in the national fabric and institutions.

Honourable senators, Bill C-13 is a step in the right direction. It will also become an important road map for the protection of Canada’s two official languages. There’s no doubt in my mind that this legislation will help develop our culture and our languages across Canada.

Still, honourable senators, I believe that the true challenge lies ahead for those who will be responsible for the administration and implementation of Bill C-13.

Honourable senators, I want to share with you the history of the two official languages in New Brunswick since 1969.

In 1969, New Brunswick enacted its first Official Languages Act by Premier Louis J. Robichaud.

In 1970 — and this is important to know — Premier Richard Hatfield acted on putting the act in place.

On July 17, 1981, the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick adopted An Act Recognizing the Equality of the Two Official Linguistic Communities in New Brunswick.

In 1982, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was enacted.

Honourable senators, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was amended in 1993 to include the principle of An Act Recognizing the Equality of the Two Official Linguistic Communities in New Brunswick.

On June 4, 2002, under the leadership of Premier Bernard Lord, a new Official Languages Act was tabled in the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick. Three days later, it was passed unanimously. Honourable senators, the new act was much broader in scope than 1969.

The Lord government created the position of the Commissioner of Official Languages for New Brunswick.

Colleagues, I would like to make a few comments on Indigenous languages. I would be remiss if I didn’t. I noticed that many of my Indigenous colleagues have concerns about the First Nations and Bill C-13.

Honourable senators, I noticed that many questions were raised during meetings of the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages, and here in the Senate, about the impact of Bill C-13 with respect to Indigenous languages.

Senator Clement and Senator Audette are right to raise concerns. I think the answers given by Minister Petitpas Taylor and the officials in her department certainly allayed — or so I believe — the concerns about Bill C-13. We will need to follow all this closely.

In addition, the Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada and the two ministers answered senators’ questions in committee. It should also be noted, honourable senators, that Senator Gold aptly answered the very appropriate questions of this chamber and provided a few clarifications, especially at the constitutional level. Thank you, Senator Gold.

To me, it is clear and definite that the provisions of this bill will not undermine the Indigenous Languages Act. We must continue to rally around the Indigenous peoples to advance the Indigenous Languages Act in our country.

Honourable senators, over the past few years we have supported the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.

Honourable senators, we have also supported the Indigenous Languages Act, which came into force on June 21, 2019.

Honourable senators, an independent review of this act must be held every five years, hence this year.

There is no doubt in my mind that we, the people of Acadia, my Acadian brothers and sisters, stand in solidarity with First Nations and will be pleased to work and collaborate with them to improve the Indigenous Languages Act.

Honourable senators, I am honoured to have the opportunity to congratulate the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages for its dedication and tenacity in completing the study of Bill C-13. This bill was recently passed by our colleagues in the other place by 300 votes in favour to one against. They showed great leadership in representing Canadians living all across the country.

Honourable senators, I would also like to bring to your attention the fact that the sponsor and the critic for Bill C-13, Senator Cormier and Senator Poirier, who are deeply committed to this bill, are originally from New Brunswick. We are proud of their compassion.

Senator Cormier and Senator Poirier, you have delivered compelling, convincing and forceful arguments on Bill C-13.

Minister Petitpas Taylor is also from New Brunswick. Thank you to all three of you. Thank you for your national vision for official languages in our country.

In conclusion, colleagues, I ask you to stand in solidarity with Acadians, Brayons and Canada’s francophone community by supporting this bill that will help us modernize our institutions and take another step towards developing our future official languages.

As a parliamentarian, I have always respected Quebec’s role in the Canadian francophonie, not just here at home in Canada, but across North America as well.

Honourable senators, I always ask myself these two questions: What would I do? What does that mean? Here are the answers to other questions I ask myself: Is the bill a step in the right direction? The answer is yes. Could the bill have gone further? The answer is yes. Will Acadian francophones be better off with this legislation than without it? The answer is also yes. Will the bill slow the decline of French in Canada? Let’s hope so.

I firmly believe that several of the actions and measures that will be taken will depend on the implementation of the bill, particularly the regulations and the powers of the Commissioner of Official Languages. It is in that spirit that I participated in the work of the committee. I am asking you to support Bill C-13, because it is a roadmap for our children and grandchildren and for the future of Canadians in general, from coast to coast to coast.

Honourable senators, we are headed in the right direction. Thank you.

Hon. Bernadette Clement [ + ]

Honourable senators, I rise to speak to Bill C-13, which is a bill that francophones across Canada have been waiting for — for years.

I want to thank the sponsor, Senator Cormier, and the critic, Senator Poirier, as well as my colleagues at the Official Languages Committee.

Thank you to the witnesses, the groups who submitted briefs and the support staff. This has been a long time coming. I agree with Senator Mockler; a lot of good work has been done here.

This bill modernizes the Official Languages Act. It creates a much-needed immigration target to support minority francophone communities. It gives the Commissioner of Official Languages much-needed expanded powers. It gives the President of the Treasury Board a clearer leadership role — one that francophone organizations have long advocated for.

I am francophone. I have roots in Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba. I have had the privilege to live, work and study in my mother tongue. I have longstanding professional ties to many of the witnesses and advocates who contacted the committee during the pre-study of the bill.

Being a member of the francophonie is at the heart of my complex identity.

I support Bill C-13.

But — and you knew there was going to be a “but” — we have missed an opportunity to take this one step further: to lean into our obligations and commitments to Indigenous people and to our country.

Politics is personal. This issue is personal to me. This is about the relationships I’ve been building with incredible advocates, teachers and leaders over the last few years.

This all started with a meeting with the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages, Ronald Ignace, as well as the Directors of the Commission, Robert Watt, Georgina Liberty and Joan Greyeyes. I wanted to know how I could support the work of this newly created office.

In truth, I was hoping for some direction. I knew that the protection, promotion and revitalization of Indigenous languages was important to me. But I wasn’t sure how I could best be useful.

It became very obvious — quite quickly — that the commissioner and directors weren’t going to give me a roadmap to allyship.

They told me to go ahead and do the work that I needed to do. And that’s when I knew that I would make mistakes; I would say the wrong thing and do the wrong thing. But I knew that the fear of making mistakes shouldn’t hold me back, and shouldn’t stop me from doing my best to be an ally.

That first meeting has led to so much of my work since then.

The Indigenous Senators Working Group welcomed me to one of their meetings, where we discussed my desire to study the dynamics and relationship between official languages and Indigenous languages at the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages. They listened to me attentively and respectfully. I very much appreciated the time I was given to have that conversation.

Then, last summer, I visited the Akwesasne Language Centre, the Akwesasne Freedom School and the Native North American Traveling College — those are just some of the institutions in Akwesasne that are protecting, nurturing and promoting the Mohawk language in an innovative, enthusiastic and effective fashion.

I met with Donna, Alice, Theresa, Dorothy, Mary, Joanna, Alvera, Rebecca, Kahente, Iakonikonriiosta and Nanci.

I learned about their work translating and creating music videos, school curricula, posters, books and websites in Mohawk. I happened to see a children’s summer camp that helps young people make connections between geography and their language, by linking place names in Mohawk.

I heard that their difficulties are often caused by a lack of funding and space.

I told these new colleagues about my story and what I hoped to accomplish in the Senate.

In February, I hosted these very same groups, plus some new friends, and valued members of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, including Grand Chief Abram Benedict, at the Senate. I was honoured that they travelled to Ottawa for the visit, and I was honoured that Senator Francis was able to join us.

We had a powerful discussion about their work, and about my work. They asked questions that I brought back to my consideration of Bill C-13. These questions included the following: Can we use the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, or UNDRIP, to strengthen the laws protecting Indigenous languages? What can Indigenous people do to make their voices heard? How can our Indigenous language remain truly ours if it’s enshrined in Canadian law? Do we trust government? What do we risk when we’ve already lost so much?

I had the chance to ask questions too, including whether I’ve been pronouncing nia:wen — thank you — correctly after all of these years.

It was an honour to show my guests the brass plate outside of my office. Some of you may know that there was no plaque at my office door for about a year and a half. It was important to me that the plaque reflect Canada’s reality, reflect my reality as a senator from eastern Ontario whose city is on traditional Mohawk territory.

I wanted the words “senator” and “Ontario” in Mohawk added to my plaque. Honourable colleagues, I’m not Indigenous, but I am an ally. I don’t speak Mohawk, but I advocate for Mohawk speakers. I have had the right to my mother tongue throughout my life. I can still advocate for those who have not.

It was not an easy process to add Mohawk to my plaque. Luckily, precedent has been set by MP Lori Idlout and Senator Michèle Audette. I was able to honour my home community on my plaque because others blazed a trail before me. The plaque represents language plurality, solidarity and my commitment to collaboration.

By the way, I have heard that other colleagues, Senators Pate and Francis, are exploring this too. I applaud them.

Thanks to the work of translators in Akwesasne, my plaque says, “Ierihwakétskwas,” she who raises matters. I love it. It is my responsibility to raise this matter: Indigenous languages deserved attention, airtime and amendment in Bill C-13. No witnesses appeared before committee to discuss Indigenous languages, though some organizations and individuals appeared on the proposed witness list.

Two organizations even submitted briefs to the House of Commons Committee on Official Languages: the Assembly of First Nations and the First Nations Summit. They argued that official languages policy — a colonial policy — has real impact on their communities.

I’m going to give you an example of those barriers and of that impact. The list is not exhaustive. We will only truly understand the full context once proper study has taken place.

First of all, only English and French languages have guaranteed use in the business of Parliament. Translation and publication of proceedings in Indigenous languages are not enshrined in law.

Secondly, any positions in the public service require knowledge of both official languages. Many Indigenous people have not had the opportunity to learn both and, in fact, oppose the expectation that they should learn not one but two colonial languages. This creates barriers for full participation in and promotion within the public service.

Plus, we know that many schools in Indigenous communities do not receive equitable funding. If students do wish to learn English or French as a second or third language, there are often insufficient resources to do so.

Finally, the Indigenous Languages Act does not benefit from the enforcement provisions entrenched in the Official Languages Act, or OLA. This is just a sampling. We must take time to discuss that impact at the Senate soon.

What strikes me, however, is the parallel between official language minority communities and Indigenous communities. I will quote the briefs submitted by the Assembly of First Nations and the First Nations Summit, and I suspect that francophones outside Quebec and anglophones within Quebec will recognize themselves in these words: “Language is essential to health, well‑being and prosperity.”

This will also resonate with them: “Our languages are fundamental to our nations and our histories.”

I am not suggesting that Indigenous people and official language minority communities have had the same experience. Far from it. The reason why I am pointing out these connections is that francophones have fought and are still fighting to preserve and protect their language. Each of these communities are familiar with and share the pain of losing a language, and I hope that they will unite in the fight for the preservation of language.

I think that we are stronger when we work together, and I think that establishing connections between all of these communities will help us to develop and implement a better language policy for everyone.

Senator Audette and I, in collaboration with Senator Greenwood, proposed amendments to Bill C-13, amendments that would insert a reference to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, that would acknowledge that Indigenous languages are this land’s first languages and would mandate the Treasury Board to explore ways to promote and use Indigenous languages in the public service.

All were defeated.

I’ve been asked before and I’m sure I’ll be asked again: Why are we talking about Indigenous languages in a bill about official languages?

My friend Senator Audette spoke eloquently on this subject on Monday evening. She said, and I quote:

We are talking about official languages, which are French and English, but speakers of Indigenous languages were not even able to participate in the debate to say that they, too, are part of this great country’s official languages.

Our conversations about official languages must include Indigenous languages, this land’s first, founding, original languages. They must include Indigenous language experts, leaders and knowledge keepers. This is a question of respect, acknowledgement of history and of current-day impact. I should mention that the Indigenous Languages Act and the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages are huge markers of progress.

The work that is being done, that will be done thanks to that legislation — and that commission — will have a major impact. But progress should not be limited there and it should not stop us from exploring how the realities of official languages policy and Indigenous languages interact.

I respect the context of our study of Bill C-13. Francophone communities have been waiting for years for Canada’s language regime to be updated and, as a francophone, I too have been waiting for years. That is where the intersectionality becomes painful: I have to find a balance between my heritage and my need to be an ally.

I hear the sense of urgency and I didn’t get in the way, but I hope that we have opened the door to other conversations, not only in the Standing Committee on Official Languages, but also in the Senate and in the activities we lead in our communities.

I want to quote from the observation prepared by Senators Greenwood, Audette and myself:

Indigenous peoples in Canada, with their unique histories and experiences, expect the Government of Canada to fulfill its commitments to them as set out and agreed to in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls for Action, in the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls’ Calls for Justice, and in the Indigenous Languages Act.

The OLA does not exist in a silo. Every piece of legislation passed by Canada’s Parliament is an opportunity for truth, reconciliation, and action, and for a departure from harmful colonial policies.

Every bill is an opportunity for reconciliation. No bill, no policy exists in a silo. We all have home communities on traditional Indigenous territory. We all have opportunities to build relationships. I promise to continue to do that. Let’s work on this together.

Thank you, nia:wen.

Hon. Margo Greenwood [ + ]

Thank you, Your Honour, and congratulations on your new role.

Honourable senators, I have a memory from my youth that I want to share with you this evening.

It was on a sunny afternoon, an Alberta afternoon. I came in from playing outside and found my father sitting at the kitchen table writing his name over, over and over again. I could see his signature on the page multiple times. I asked him, “What are you doing?” And he said, “I write good English.”

I have often thought of this memory, and it makes me sad.

My dad only had a Grade 6 education, we think. Life and school taught him not to communicate in his first language, Cree. My dad believed that this was what was best for his own good. My dad believed speaking good English meant the safety of his children.

My dad never taught me to speak Cree. The colonial experience had achieved its goal.

Honourable senators, I am —

[Editor’s Note: Senator Greenwood spoke in an Indigenous language.]

— from Treaty 6. I share my Indian name with you so that you might know from where I speak. I rise today for the first time —

Senator Greenwood [ + ]

— since I have been appointed to this honourable chamber.

I begin by acknowledging the ancestors and unceded territories of the Anishinaabe Algonquin peoples. I express my gratitude for the privilege of working and living on their lands.

I also acknowledge the many people who have supported me on my journey to the Red Chamber. It was only with the love of my family, my community, my friends and colleagues that I am here today.

I rise today to address Bill C-13, An Act to amend the Official Languages Act, to enact the Use of French in Federally Regulated Private Businesses Act and to make related amendments to other Acts. I recognize the committee and all those who worked so hard to shape this bill.

I also want to personally thank Senator Audette and Senator Clement for their championing of the rights of Indigenous peoples in this bill.

With much of what I’m going to say tonight, I am probably repeating what you have already heard, but so be it.

Esteemed colleagues here have spoken about the importance of language to their culture and their way of life.

During an earlier debate on this bill, Senator Cormier shared a quote from the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling on Ford v. Quebec:

Language is not merely a means or medium of expression; it colours the content and meaning of expression. . . . It is also the means by which one expresses one’s personal identity and sense of individuality.

These words from the ruling are quite moving. The ruling goes on to state:

. . . there cannot be true freedom of expression by means of language if one is prohibited from using the language of one’s choice.

Honourable senators, I am here to add to this discussion. There is a richness of linguistic diversity across the lands now known as Canada. Yet not all languages hold the same privileges and protections. This hierarchy lays bare an injustice. Parliament and, by extension, the Senate created many injustices in our nation’s history. The Senate has also fought to address these injustices.

I believe our job in the Senate is to address injustice whenever possible. It is one of the reasons that I am here. Addressing the injustice of privileging some languages over others affords us such an opportunity.

I want to take a moment to reflect on the nature of language. Language is a manifestation of how we think and how we are in the world. Language shapes our realities. Language is culture. Language transmits our ways of knowing and being across the generations. Language creates profoundly different worldviews.

Many Indigenous languages are rooted in ever-evolving verb-based relationships. These are relationships between humans and the natural world. These relationships are sacred. They are relationships characterized by specific sounds, by silence and by mindful words reflective of the land in which Indigenous languages have always been rooted.

Imagine the sound of the great blue heron as she rises from the water. Imagine the sound of the high-pitched whistle of the eagle soaring overhead, the rustle of icy cattails in a spring wind and the sharp yip of the coyote.

These sounds are embedded in Indigenous languages. Our sounds embody the relationship between humans and the land. These specific sounds are unique to specific places and spaces. These are the places and spaces of Turtle Island.

Our languages are the first languages of this land of Turtle Island. But these first languages are in crisis. We are in a moment of losing many Indigenous languages across Turtle Island. When a language is lost, so too is a way of knowing and being in the world lost.

Colonization is responsible for this loss. This bleak history is shared by everyone across Turtle Island. Even before Confederation, generations of Indigenous children and families were exposed to the eradication of their languages in residential and day schools. Often, children were beaten for speaking their language.

Indigenous peoples do not have the privilege of having their languages recognized as official languages in their own lands. Recently, Canada has taken important steps toward reconciliation. There have been apologies for residential schools. In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its Calls to Action, which called upon the federal government “. . . to acknowledge that Aboriginal rights include Aboriginal language rights.”

In 2019, the Indigenous Languages Act received Royal Assent and recognized Indigenous languages as the first languages of the land. That same year — and Senator Audette will know this — the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls released its final report and Calls for Justice. Call for Justice 2.2 states:

We call upon all governments to recognize Indigenous languages as official languages, with the same status, recognition, and protection provided to French and English. . . .

In 2021, Canada adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. UNDRIP has many articles regarding Indigenous languages.

This brings us to today. This brings us to the efforts of fellow parliamentarians to further the cause of reconciliation. Bill C-13 acknowledges the richness of linguistic diversity. But not all languages hold the same privileges as official languages. The Official Languages Act does not exist unto itself.

Every piece of legislation that passes through this chamber is an opportunity for truth, reconciliation and action. Every piece of legislation that passes through this chamber is an opportunity for a departure from harmful colonial policies of the past. Bill C-13 offers us an opportunity to address some of these policies. Bill C-13 recognizes the existence of Indigenous languages but, unlike the Indigenous Languages Act, does not acknowledge them as first languages. Senators tried to amend Bill C-13 to mirror this acknowledgement. This would have been an important step to advance reconciliation. Unfortunately, this amendment was defeated.

There were also proposed amendments to recognize Canada’s commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, or UNDRIP Act, provides a road map for the Government of Canada and Indigenous peoples to work together to implement the declaration. The UNDRIP Act has numerous articles detailing the importance of Indigenous languages, like Article 13, which states:

1. Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons.

This UNDRIP Act was designed to ensure that all federal laws are consistent with the declaration. Unfortunately, this proposed amendment was also defeated.

There have been many arguments that instead of amending the Official Languages Act, we should amend the Indigenous Languages Act. The Official Languages Act must not be siloed from goals of reconciliation. Amending the Official Languages Act could strengthen the use of Indigenous languages here in Parliament. Amending the act could strengthen the use of Indigenous languages in public service. As well, amending the act would let Canadians know that the government takes seriously the advancement of reconciliation.

Implementing Call for Justice 2.2 — recognizing Indigenous languages as official languages with the same status and protection provided to French and English — is a fundamental step toward reconciliation. I hope you do see it, Michèle, in your tenure here and mine. By elevating Indigenous languages, we are not removing French or English. That is not the point as official languages. But by elevating Indigenous languages, we are removing some of those barriers to reconciliation.

It is my responsibility as a senator to further the cause of reconciliation whenever possible, including today and every day.

Where do we go from here? I extend to you an invitation. If senators truly believe that Bill C-13 is not the appropriate bill to amend, and should it be passed, then I invite you as parliamentarians to expedite legislation with me that will create true equality for Indigenous languages of these lands.

Honourable senators, I thank you for giving me this time and I would like to leave you with a final quote from the commissioners of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples:

Canada is a test case for a grand notion – the notion that dissimilar peoples can share lands, resources, power and dreams while respecting and sustaining their differences. The story of Canada is the story of many such peoples, trying and failing and trying again, to live together in peace and harmony.

I look forward to continuing to work with you, my fellow senators, on achieving that justice.

Hiy hiy.

Hon. Rose-May Poirier [ + ]

Honourable senators, I rise today at third reading as critic for Bill C-13, An Act to amend the Official Languages Act, to enact the Use of French in Federally Regulated Private Businesses Act and to make related amendments to other Acts.

I’d like to begin by thanking my colleagues on the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages, who worked very hard during our pre-study and study of the bill.

We have a great working relationship on the committee, and I’m proud of all the work we’ve done together for Canadians. Colleagues, now that we’re at third reading, I’d like to focus a little more on some of the concrete amendments that Bill C-13 proposes to the Official Languages Act, as well as the new use of French in federally regulated private businesses act.

As I said in my speech at second reading, the last major amendment to the Official Languages Act was in 1988. Even at that time, 17 years after the passage of the Official Languages Act, the need for revision was already apparent, as indicated in the Speech from the Throne at the opening of the Thirty-third Parliament:

Official bilingualism is an essential part of our national identity. Seventeen years after being passed, the Official Languages Act now needs to be revised. Legislative measures will therefore be proposed to you during the session, with a view to making the act consistent with the provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Here we are, 35 years after the Mulroney government’s commitment and the successive revisions, with the opportunity to strengthen the Official Languages Act and continue the march toward the substantive equality between French and English. In September 1969, on a Radio-Canada program hosted by Simon Durivage, the coming into force of the Official Languages Act was being discussed and people were already pointing out that there was a long way to go between interpreting the law and applying it.

The fact is that today, 53 years later, we have not gotten all the way there, and Bill C-13 is proposing a way for us to get closer to this objective.

Let me begin, honourable colleagues, with the coordination of the Official Languages Act. As some of you may know, stakeholders have been asking for years to have a clear and better coordination of the act. Like I said in my second-reading speech, the consensus was built around having the Treasury Board in charge of the coordination. But how we got there is not as simple as one would think.

In their white paper entitled English and French: Towards a substantive equality of official languages in Canada, the government seemed to take the engagement of having the Treasury Board as the department responsible for government-wide coordination. On page 26, a legislative proposal reads:

Strengthen and expand the Treasury Board’s powers, notably the power to monitor compliance with Part VII of the Act as appropriate, by providing the Treasury Board Secretariat with the necessary resources so that it assumes the role of a central body responsible for ensuring the compliance of federal institutions and by examining cases where permissive provisions would be made mandatory.

When Bill C-13 was introduced, the government-wide coordination was entrusted to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, in spite of the government’s own commitment to hand it to the Treasury Board. It was mind-boggling how, after the majority of stakeholders — including your committee — recommended to the government that it put the Treasury Board in charge of the coordination of the law, the government decided not to follow suit. Thankfully, the committee in the other place made sure the government respected its own engagement from its white paper by amending Bill C-13.

Colleagues, I would like to give a concrete example of why we need to strengthen the Treasury Board. In 2017, the government created the Canada Infrastructure Bank. However, from the moment it was created, there was a lack of leadership to ensure that this institution was knowledgeable about its linguistic commitments in terms of serving the public in both official languages.

As the Commissioner of Official Languages said in his 2018-19 annual report:

All of the players at the table must be active supporters and participants in order to achieve the Act’s objectives and advance official languages. The Commissioner therefore urges the Treasury Board Secretariat to increase its involvement by providing ongoing guidance to federal institutions—and especially to newly created ones that are still unfamiliar with their language obligations . . . .

As you can see, the commissioner is encouraging the Treasury Board Secretariat to play a more active role in federal institutions. That again brings me back to the subject of leadership, which I talked about in my speech at second reading. Since Treasury Board was given the responsibility of coordinating the Official Languages Act, it will be able to exercise stronger leadership. The language will be clearer. We discussed this when the Minister of Official Languages, the Honourable Ginette Petitpas Taylor, and the President of the Treasury Board, Mona Fortier, appeared before the committee. Treasury Board will play that role, while Canadian Heritage will continue to do more of the work on the ground.

However, there are still concerns, as demonstrated by the following observation from the report of the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages, which states, and I quote:

However, your committee notes that several witnesses, including the Commissioner of Official Languages, stressed the importance of having the federal government devise an effective and comprehensive mechanism for overseeing the OLA’s implementation. This mechanism should assess compliance by entities subject to the OLA with its various provisions and include appropriate indicators, particularly the demographic weight of francophone minorities and the enumeration of the children of rights-holders.

That observation clearly indicates to the government what the committee and minority language communities expect. It is imperative that the government be able to properly assess the implementation of the act so that we can make any necessary adjustments when it is reviewed in 10 years.

Furthermore, Part VII of the act has been contested many times in court. To summarize, Part VII details that the government must take positive measures to promote the vitality of English and French linguistic minority communities. And that is where the problem lies: the lack of details on what a positive measure is and how the government is to undertake a positive measure. Again, this was a section where clarity was needed for stakeholders to understand what to expect from the federal government and what the obligations of the federal government are.

When discussing Part VII of the act, I believe it is important to remind ourselves of the commitment of the federal government to:

enhancing the vitality of the English and French linguistic minority communities in Canada and supporting and assisting their development; and

fostering the full recognition and use of both English and French in Canadian society.

The commitment by the federal government is amended, but only in the area of taking into account the uniqueness of all linguistic minorities in Canada. The culture and reality of francophones living in Halifax, Nova Scotia, will be quite different compared to anglophones living in Sherbrooke, Quebec, and their respective realities and culture will be different compared to the francophones living in Manitoba. But what this section also says is what they have in common, which is the federal government’s commitment in enhancing their vitality.

How will the federal government enhance the vitality of linguistic minority communities? It does so with the application of positive measures. With Bill C-13, the amendments to Part VII of the Official Languages Act list sectors in which positive measures may:

support sectors that are essential to enhancing the vitality of English and French linguistic minority communities, including the culture, education — from early childhood to post-secondary education — health, justice, employment and immigration sectors, and protect and promote the presence of strong institutions serving those communities.

Going forward, the government should have a clearer indication on which sectors are essential for our vitality. Furthermore, the committee in the other place reinforced provisions for consultation requirements. Bill C-13 now proposes that positive measures taken by federal institutions must be based on analyses that are the result of dialogue, consultation and research activities, and these dialogue activities must allow for the priorities of English and French linguistic minorities to be taken into account.

Like I mentioned in my second reading speech, Bill C-13 amends Part VII of the law to insert the government’s commitment to section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is the right of children to receive their instructions in the language of the English or French linguistic minority population of a province or territory.

Combining that commitment with the sector of early childhood education to post-secondary education as a sector essential to enhancing the vitality of English and French linguistic minority communities gives hope for linguistic minorities in Canada that the federal government is getting closer to fulfilling their minority language educational rights.

Finally, a key element was added to Part VII, namely the provision pertaining to language provisions when the federal government negotiates with provincial and territorial governments. All too often, anglophone and francophone minority communities are forgotten in intergovernmental agreements. A recent example I can think of is that of the child care agreements the federal government signed with the provinces.

At the June 5, 2023, meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages, my colleague, Senator Mockler, asked Liane Roy of the Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada a question to which she replied the following:

It is already being done in negotiations. However, if we had to do it again and if we had Bill C-13 as it is currently drafted, during the negotiations between officials of the different provinces, territories and the federal government, there would be discussions to establish if these provinces and territories had consulted the communities to determine what should be in these child care agreements. Do we know the number of child care centres? Do we have the right numbers to determine funding that should be allocated to the communities? This applies to both groups, that is anglophones in Quebec and francophones outside Quebec.

This concern has already been expressed in my province of New Brunswick.

As part of the agreement between the province and the federal government to lower the cost of child care services, the provincial government decided to create 1,600 spots for the anglophone sector and 300 spots for the francophone sector. That is a major difference that does not in any way represent the demographic weight of the linguistic communities.

A low-income francophone family might have to make the heartbreaking choice between paying more to have their child start school in French and paying a reasonable price to start school in English.

With strong federal leadership, the agreement would have allowed the statistics from the 2021 census to be used and the demographic weight to be respected.

It is clear, honourable colleagues, that in its negotiation with the provinces, the federal government needed to do more to ensure that linguistic minorities had at least a fair share of funding. The federal government shall take the necessary measures to promote the federal government’s commitment to enhancing vitality of communities and fostering English and French, protecting and promoting French and in advancing opportunities for members of English and French linguistic minority communities to pursue learning in their language.

With all of these improvements in Part VII of the law, I do believe the federal government’s roles and responsibilities are a bit clearer. The consultation mechanism is stronger, and it goes beyond just consulting — it intends to establish a dialogue with the linguistic minority communities. It is not only to be a check mark when consulting; it will be in maintaining a dialogue. The strength of the dialogue will be determined by the government’s involvement because, without a doubt, the linguistic minority communities are always willing to have constructive dialogue.

How will these new amendments work if Bill C-13 becomes law? I have to return to an important element from my second reading speech, which is federal leadership. The strength of Part VII of the act, the reach that it has and the impact it could have relies on the federal government’s leadership to apply the provisions. If history has taught us anything, when you are a linguistic minority in Canada, you must rely heavily on the courts to validate and confirm your rights. Too often, linguistic minorities must turn to the courts to validate their rights, and to have the federal government respect its own laws and commitments. How many resources have been spent in the courts when they could’ve been spent elsewhere — if only the language were clearer, and if the federal government had shown better leadership?

That was, in my opinion, a major issue when it came to Part VII of the Official Languages Act. The federal government and its institutions were unable to fully understand the expectations of linguistic minorities and their own duty. They did not know what a positive measure was, and the language was vague. I sincerely hope the federal government will take its commitment seriously, and avoid forcing linguistic minority communities to turn to the courts. Court cases are expensive for all parties involved, and, at the end of the day, whether the government is right or the linguistic minority communities are right, it is the vitality of English and French that loses.

However, the Commissioner of Official Languages would have more tools at his disposal to ensure that federal institutions meet their language obligations. For example, following an investigation, the commissioner could enter into a compliance agreement with an institution if he deems that it is not meeting its language obligations. This kind of power will make it easier for the commissioner to enforce the Official Languages Act. It also gives him the opportunity to educate any federal institution that fails to meet its obligations. The commissioner could steer them in the right direction so that they comply with their language obligations. I hope that this expanded power will improve federal institutions’ compliance with their language obligations.

Finally, there is an important addition to the commissioner’s powers: administrative monetary penalties. It is important to note that this system of administrative monetary penalties is specific and limited to cases where the institution has duties under Part IV of the act, which covers communications with and services to the public, where the institution operates in the transportation sector, and where the institution “engages in communications with and provides or makes available services to the travelling public.”

Furthermore, this power is used as a last resort. Before imposing a monetary penalty, the commissioner must propose a compliance agreement. The objective of the complaint must not have already given rise to an administrative monetary penalty. There’s also a time limitation: no more than two years after the commissioner was informed of the facts or no more than three years after the date of the complaint.

Honourable senators, this part of my speech summarizes the major amendments — in my opinion — to the Official Languages Act. These are the amendments that could have a direct impact on the vitality of linguistic minority communities. The second part of my speech will focus on the process used by the government, as well as the concerns we heard regarding the bill.

Part 2 of Bill C-13 proposes a new act: the use of French in federally regulated private businesses act. This new act will introduce a new concept in language rights: a strong francophone presence. On one hand, Part IV of the Official Languages Act sets out the obligations where there is significant demand, and, on the other hand, the new act sets out the obligations for “regions with a strong francophone presence.”

As per a brief submitted by Air Canada, it will certainly cause confusion for employers, as well as employees. And what is a “strong francophone presence”? Your guess is as good as mine, honourable senators, because that will be determined after the bill receives Royal Assent.

As much as I will always agree with the advancement of French and English in Canadian society, I will always have a hard time when so many orders-in-council and regulations are to come into effect after a bill receives Royal Assent. When the committee conducted its pre-study of the bill last year, we heard concerns regarding the reliance on regulations in Part 2 of Bill C-13.

For witnesses — such as Reno Vaillancourt from FETCO, which is short for Federally Regulated Employers – Transportation and Communications — many questions remained unanswered. What is a region with an important francophone presence? Which criteria will be used to determine the new definition? These types of questions are concerning for employers, leaving them in the unknown.

For us legislators, it is harder to understand the bill we are studying. I understand that sometimes, the government has to leave room through regulations. However, for something as important as the concept of regions with a strong francophone presence, which is at the very heart of the use of French in federally regulated private businesses act, it makes our work more difficult. It is also difficult for the witnesses to give us a clear opinion on the bill, because the concept is not yet clearly defined.

That is not just a problem in Part 2 of Bill C-13, but also when it comes to adopting a policy for francophone immigration outside Quebec. Even though such a policy is mentioned in the act, the act does not specify when the policy will be adopted, what it will contain or when it will be put in place. For those who don’t know, the Official Languages Act already contains a number of provisions through which the government can create regulations. Before the modernization process began, stakeholders had been asking the federal government for years to adopt regulations regarding Part VII, as indicated in the act.

I’m still not convinced that making regulations under the Official Languages Act or issuing orders in council is the way to go. It would have been better if the government had imposed a 12-month timeline for adopting the policy for francophone immigration outside of Quebec. It will take time for such a policy to have any effect. It’s not a magic wand that we can wave to restore the demographic weight of francophones, and it can’t guarantee the successful arrival and retention of newcomers in francophone communities outside Quebec. It will take time before we see the effects. The longer the government waits, the more difficult it will be for francophone communities outside Quebec to regain their demographic weight.

Finally, I must mention my disappointment in the Liberal government for bringing Bill C-13 to us so late in the year, forcing us — as a chamber — to rush to approve the bill. The Standing Senate Committee on Official Languages began its study on the modernization of the Official Languages Act six years ago in 2017. Common sense would suggest that we should have leaned into our expertise once the bill arrived in order to see how it could be improved. Sadly, it did not. Our anglophone colleagues from Quebec are asked to trust the government’s judicial opinion on including Quebec’s Charter of the French Language in the Official Languages Act, while francophone communities outside of Quebec must accept Bill C-13 as a fait accompli in order to avoid the risk of losing the gains from Bill C-13. It is disappointing to see how the modernization has unfolded. When we first started this study in 2017, I did not envision a process where people would be divided. Uniting people is at the basis of bilingualism and linguistic duality, and, in my opinion, the government failed in that regard.

Honourable senators, if Bill C-13 is adopted, the work across the federal government begins. It will take time, it will take dialogue, it will take adjustments and it will take patience and understanding, but, at the end of the day, with strong federal leadership, bilingualism and linguistic duality in Canada can be strengthened for generations to come. The vitality of French and English linguistic minority communities depends on the efficiency of the federal government to respect the Official Languages Act.

When I say that the vitality of linguistic minority communities depends on the Official Languages Act, I’m not exaggerating, and my own background is a perfect illustration of that. I was born into a francophone family living in an anglophone community. This meant that I had to begin my schooling in English. When I started grade 9, we moved to Saint-Louis-de-Kent, where there was a French-language school. However, since I had already started my schooling in English, it was easier just to finish it in English. I never learned to read or write in my mother tongue at school. That happened later, once my daughters started school in French. It is crucial that every child has the opportunity to begin their education in their mother tongue, whether in English in Quebec or French outside Quebec.

Could the process leading to the passage of Bill C-13 have been different? I think so. The government missed an opportunity to capitalize on our sober second thought by forcing us to rush this bill through. Improvements could have been made now, although I’m sure they’ll be proposed in 10 years’ time, during the review of the act. Even if these improvements are made, the effect will not be felt for another five years. A change like the one that MP Joël Godin proposed, to enumerate the rights‑holders instead of estimating the number, could set linguistic minority communities back 15 years.

As a senator, my duty is to be a voice for my people, the Acadians from New Brunswick, who, even in the only officially bilingual province, are a linguistic minority. At every generation, our vitality becomes more and more fragile. The case is the same for every linguistic minority community across the country. No province, territory or linguistic group can avoid it.

I take issue with the way the government handled the process for the modernization of the Official Languages Act. This should be a time to celebrate our commitment to bilingualism and linguistic duality. However, I cannot allow their mishandling to delay the modernization of the Official Languages Act. They’ve been waiting 35 years, and I encourage all senators to support their respective linguistic minority in their own province or territory by supporting bilingualism and linguistic duality tonight through Bill C-13.

In conclusion, honourable senators, just as I did at second reading, I support Bill C-13, An Act for the Substantive Equality of Canada’s Official Languages. I have some reservations about the government’s approach, and the regulations and orders in council don’t inspire me with confidence.

However, it is a step forward for minority francophone and anglophone communities.

It is significant that the federal government is recognizing the education continuum, and these gains could make a real difference.

The success of all these measures depends on the leadership of the federal government. We don’t want to see any more lawsuits forcing the government to uphold its language obligations. Instead, we want a government that listens, that is committed and that supports the promotion of bilingualism and linguistic duality in the cultural mosaic that is Canada. Thank you.

The Hon. the Speaker [ + ]

Are senators ready for the question?

Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?

Senator Plett [ + ]


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