Little Fish in a Giant pond

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Big Victory for Franco-Albertans(?)

As if the Russell Township debate in Ontario hadn't stirred up enough debate about linguistic rights in this country, the Queen's Bench of Alberta has decided that a Francophone truck driver's rights were violated by a speeding ticket that was issued to him in English only! (Click here for the Full Story) This battle of course, is far from over, because the Alberta government has announced that it will take the fight to the Alberta Court of Appeal.

From the article, it appears that the accused, Mr. Gilles Caron, was challenging the constitutionality of the Province's traffic and language legislation. I haven't got a lot of time, so at least for today, I'm not going to discuss the legal merits of the case, and instead I'm going to focus more on what seems fair to me.

I'm a strong believer in coast to coast to coast bilingualism in Canada. I think that if our country is bilingual, that means a Canadian should have the right to be served by his or her government in the official language of his or her choice no matter where they are in Canada. Having said that, like all rights we have to have reasonable limits. For example, it makes no sense that every single person behind the counter of a post office in Red Deer, Alberta should be bilingual, since there is probably not a lot of demand for French services in that part of the country.

The matter becomes even more tricky when it comes to provincial services, since with the exception of New Brunswick, there are no other officially bilingual provinces. Still, the provinces are constitutionally bound to provide certain services in both French and English.

Here in Ontario, the province is not officially bilingual, but the reality of the matter is that most services from the provincial government are available in French, and most of the province's laws are available online, and have been translated into French. Most of our Court decisions are only available in English, but French and English are both recognized as the official languages of the Ontario Courts, and people do have the right to require that trials and other matters be done in French.

But getting back to the traffic ticket in Alberta. Is it really that unreasonable to ask that the ticket be made out in both of Canada's official languages? I've never gotten a ticket in Ontario (or any other province for that matter), but I believe that they are bilingual here. I think it's pretty fair to say that it's unreasonable to expect police officers throughout the country to be able to speak and write in both languages, but there's no reason why they could not fill out a bilingual traffic ticket. If they have to write extra information on the ticket in the language of their choice, then so be it, that's fair, but the form itself can easily be produced in both languages.

On a side note, my father is a veteran of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), and unlike myself, he does not speak French. He tells me that whenever he is arresting someone and they demand that they be cautioned (the Canadian equivalent to reading them their rights) in French, that this too is not a problem, since the OPP issues them a standard card with the caution pre-written in French. After that, it's up to the accused to request a bilingual trial if he or she so desires.

It's little things like this can be done to ensure that bilingualism functions in Canada. Bilingualism does not mean that we all have to speak both languages (at least not for me anyways), it just means that all we have to do is treat each other with a little respect and show some effort to make sure that services are provided in both languages within reason. This should be applied as much to French outside of Québec as it should be to English inside Québec.

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  • Hi sir,

    Nice blog btw, I'm trying to blog more in English but I got more accostomed with my French buddies so it's almost new territory for me.

    Anyhow, do you know why there are bilingual signs all accross Ontario roads despite some place that are 99% English speaking?

    Because some guy who was not even French by the way contested his ticket on the basis that since the sign law was not bilingual, the signs were unconstitutional and the guy won.

    So next time you get a ticket, have a look if it is bilingual sign, if not, you might have a case there.


    Tym Machine

    By Blogger Tym_Machine, at 4:56 PM  

  • Thanks for the comment TM, but I'm afraid you're mistaken. I have lived in Ontario all of my life and I can assure you that almost all of the signs that have words on them are in English.

    In fact, I am writing these very words from Hawkesbury, Ontario, where the vast majority of people speak French and still most of the stop signs (not all of them) say "stop".

    Just the same, a lot of them just contain symbols that can be recognized by both linguistic groups. Is that what you meant?

    Interestingly enough though, Québec seems to be one of the only places in the world where the stop signs say "arrêt". When I last visited France I was amused to see that all of the stop signs still said "stop".

    By Blogger Fish, at 5:24 AM  

  • Also, because the province does not have a bilingualism policy and traffic violations are handled by provincial authorities, then this individuals case is slightly far-fetched.
    Bilingualism laws only apply to federal government services. Ontario is offering services in french based on convention and history, but the law does not require them to do so.
    Not a legal expert, just a comment.

    By Anonymous Mackenzie, at 8:55 AM  

  • Actually Mackenzie, it is the law. The Ontario French Services Act (commonly known as "la loi huit")requires them to offer services in French. Similarly to the federal government, it is not required to offer these services in all parts of the province, just whenever addressing a ministry or department's head office, or in a local office that is situated in a region where there is a demand for French services.

    I don't think the case is far fetched at all. From a legal point of view, I can deffinately say that both sides of the argument have merit, but it would take a more in depth analysis before I could give you an opinion on which side has the stronger case.

    The opinion I was trying to get across in this post was really more of a moral one than a legal one.

    Thanks for commenting!

    By Blogger Fish, at 9:06 AM  

  • @Fish,

    Did you know that actually stop is a word accepted in the French language.

    To me, I find the "arrêt" signs very stupid considering that data, I just don't get it. Probably, it's because some people started making 101 out of the word Stop or because stop doesn't seem French enough, in both cases, it's just purely blatant language purism and should be discarded from Quebec's paranoid way of thinking.

    Just imagine, Paul McCartney went to Quebec city and some of our not so brilliant nationalist saw it as a bad thing that a british would come to sing on the place where French were beaten around 250 years ago.

    By Blogger Tym_Machine, at 9:16 AM  

  • Good point TM.

    I've heard many of my francophone friends use the word "stop" while speaking French before, but I'm not really sure if it's accepted just as slang.

    In any event I can certainly understand how Francophones in this country want to protect their language from being absorbed by English, but I think we can both agree that when terms commonly used in France such as "stop" or "parking" (terrain de stationnement in Canada/Québec), it's taking things a bit too far.

    And yeah, the whole Paul MacCartney thing was just an absolute farce!

    I hope you'll keep reading this blog. I'm planning on writing my next two postings on linguistic minority rights, and I really appreciate hearing what others think!

    En passant, t'est libre de faire des commentaires en Français si tu le préfère, je suis bilingue moi aussi. D'habitude quand j'écrit par rapport aux droits des communautés de langues officielles minoritaires, je préfère le faire en Anglais afin de pouvoir convaincre mes compatriotes anglophones que c'est une bonne cause, mais j'aime ça entendre ce que pensent les Québécois francophones aussi.

    By Blogger Fish, at 11:00 AM  

  • Il n'y a pas de problème Mr Fish.

    Mais bon, j'écris beaucoup en français à mes compatriotes blogueurs "droitistes" et également certains de la go-gauche étatiste.

    Pour ma part, je crois que le pays bilingue de PET est une utopie, je ne suis pas séparatiste québecois mais je ne suis pas rêveur comme Trudeau. De toute façon, le bilinguisme n'est qu'un baume sur une plaie, ce n'est pas cela qui fera en sorte que le Canada marche ou non comme il est.

    We have to comprehend really on what's fair for everyone and what's unfair for some that's how we are going to learn how to live together. It's an ongoing process and everyday it has to be redone over and over again...just like in everyday life couples.


    Tym Machine

    By Blogger Tym_Machine, at 3:14 PM  

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