Linguistic discrimination in Ontario?
Now that I've made this clear, a recent event has given me cause to reflect on the situation of Francophones living outside of Québec. I recently decided to apply for a number of articling student positions with the Ontario government. While I was aware that such positions are extremely difficult to obtain, I decided to give it a shot anyways since I really didn't have anything to lose, and because the fact that I am bilingual might just make me more attractive to them. In order to emphasize my bilingualism, I decided to send off my cover letters and CVs in French.
Slowly, various government offices began to acknowledge receipt of my applications either by mail or email, and I noticed that all of the correspondence I received was in English! To be perfectly honest, I hadn't given this a moment's thought (or even noticed for that matter!) until I received a response from the office of the ministry of community safety and correctional services by mail. In this letter, the person who received my application (who shall remain anonymous) very politely thanked me for my interest in the position and told me that they would soon be making a choice on who they wished to invite for interviews. Then, much to my surprise, I was asked to please send a copy of my application in English!
Now in my case, there was absolutely no harm done. I speak English, and already had copies of my cover letter and CV templates in English stored on my hard drive. So complying with this request was little more than a simple matter of loading up the files, making a few quick changes, and emailing the files to the address of the person who sent me the letter. I also promised to mail an English copy at the next opportunity. I do not consider myself to have been the victim of any form of injustice in this matter.
Still, I couldn't help but be troubled by all this just a little. According to the 2001 census, Ontario has a total population of 11,285,550 of whom 485,630 identified French as their mother tongue, and another 37,135 selected English and French. With the obvious exception of Québec, no other province has as many Francophones (though New Brunswick, Canada's only officially bilingual province, has a larger percentage of Francophones than Ontario). This makes me wonder what would have happened if someone else had sent their application in French, someone who was not as strong in English as I am.
Despite what some people may think, it is perfectly possible to live one's life in Ontario without ever mastering English. I have had the pleasure of getting to know a lot of Franco-Ontarians in my day, and while there can be no doubt that a good number of them speak English every bit as well as I do, I have also met a lot of them who struggle with the language. A lot of Franco-Ontarians grew up in places like Hearst, Hawkesbury, and Lafontaine, where Francophones are actually the majority of the community. Should one of these people have had to submit an English copy of their application? I don't think so. In my opinion, a Canadian should have the right to communicate with his or her government (yes even the provincial ones) in the official Canadian language of their choice.
Now I am willing to accept that reasonable limits must be set. After all, even the Charter of Rights has a reasonable limits clause. So one could argue that Ontario's overwhelmingly larger English-speaking population is justification for French language services not being provided in that province, but I for one, am not convinced. Ontario (to its much deserved credit) has already made great strides in accommodating its Francophone population. Every government form and web page for the Ontario government that I have seen has either been bilingual or has had an English equivalent and whenever I have called a government number there is always a French option. For the most part, the Ontario government is all but officially bilingual. Furthermore, as I already mentioned, Ontario does have the largest Francophone population outside of Quebec, and according to the 2001 census, French is also the largest minority language in the province and has at least twice as many people as any other language group (unless you count Chinese as one language, but even then the Francophone population is still larger). When these numbers are coupled with the fact that French is an official language of Canada, it seems to me that it is perfectly reasonable for a Franco-Ontarian to expect services from the government of Ontario in French.
Now it is also worth noting that the office of the ministry of community safety and correctional services, unlike almost all of the other positions I applied for, is not located in the province's capital city of Toronto. It is in fact located in the small town of Orillia, in the same building that serves as the Headquarters for the Ontario Provincial Police (O.P.P.). Should this serve as justification for them not being able to read my application in French? Once again, I don't think so. While Orillia itself is a VERY Anglophone community (I lived just outside of the town for about 8 years), it is just a stone's throw away from Penetanguishene, Midland, and of course, Lafontaine. All of which have very substantial French-speaking populations.
This begs the question, should all of the people responsible for hiring articling students in this particular branch of the government be made to learn to speak French? The answer of course, is no. However, it does not seem at all unreasonable to me that at least one member of the hiring committee could be a bilingual person. If such personnel are unavailable, I don't think it would be hard or unreasonable to have it translated. Now once again, in my case this is very unnecessary, since sending the application for me was almost no effort at all. My concern is for any Franco-Ontarian, who just wants a job with his or her government.
Now I realize that the person who sent me that letter was not some anti-French lunatic bent on pushing Franco-Ontarians into assimilation. It seems far more likely that they just did not have the resources available to understand the French documents in my application package, and they wanted to be able to understand enough about me to evaluate my ability to fit in with their organization. I can respect that. But I also think that the Ontario government should set aside the necessary resources for potential government employers to objectively evaluate Francophone applicants.
I also can’t help but wonder if I would have received the same request if my name were not Brian Fisher. Would my friends Léo Bourdon or Marc-André Mongeon have received the same request? Yet again, I am still not complaining, as having an Anglo/Irish name does tend to make one think that the person whose name it is will probably speak English. And in my case, it was perfectly true. Though I know my friend Patrick Kilfoil, a Francophone, would probably take issue with this.
By the way, for those among my Francophone friends who are wondering why I am making this particular posting in English, it is because I am essentially trying to make the case for a bilingual Ontario, and to do so in French would essentially amount to preaching to the choir.