Canada, House of Commons Debates, “The Constitution—Francophones Outside Quebec—Protection of Rights”, 32nd Parl, 1st Sess (30 November 1981)

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Date: 1981-11-30
By: Canada (Parliament)
Citation: Canada, House of Commons Debates, 32nd Parl, 1st Sess, 1981 at 13532-13533.
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Mr. Jean-Robert Gauthier (Ottawa-Vanier): Mr. Speaker, last week, I directed a question to the Minister of Justice (Mr. Chrétien) respecting the Constitution, more specifically, I asked him how he could explain to French Canadians that the constitutional resolution is said to protect francophones, while in fact it is only protecting the rights of francophones in three provinces, Quebec, New Brunswick and Manitoba. The minister replied that that was easily explained since, to his own and to everyone’s surprise, in his own words, he had managed to get the nine English-speaking provinces to agree to protect the rights to education in the minority language.

However, I find it strange that the Minister of Justice should admit his surprise since several premiers, including Mr. Davis of Ontario and Mr. Bennett of British Columbia, have already stated that the minority language education rights clause would bring nothing new to the francophones of their provinces. The premiers themselves have admitted it, and there is nothing new there. It is only a confirmation of the status quo, which does not bring anything new nor is it cause for great celebration. The situation was summarized like this: minority language education rights will be granted across Canada, where numbers warrant and only up to and including the secondary level. However, the French-speaking minorities will have no control over their institutions nor will they have the right to address in their own language their legal and judicial institutions, that is, the provincial assemblies and the courts. All their legal documents such as wills, deeds, all types of contracts will be drawn up in English in seven out of ten provinces, since French will not have the status of a working language in those institutions. That is what I take exception to, Mr. Speaker. If the Constitution is to grant francophones certain rights, then it must also enable them to use the tools needed to uphold those rights. Francophones should have the right to address the courts in French throughout the country. Those are basic democratic rights which one cannot do without if one wants to live in French in Canda. Francophones should have the right everywhere in Canada to communicate with their provincial governments in their mother tongue as well, something which I suggest is essential to the survival of a linguistic group. If a constitution fails to assert that one of the two linguistic communities has the political and legal resources enabling it to express, to protect and to defend its values and its rights, then this community is forced to accept the challenge of seeking survival outside of and often despite the rules of the game.

Mr. Speaker, that marginalization will result in francophones outside Quebec, in the bottom of their heart, being forced to be more vigilant still and more dynamic in their fight to protect whatever limited rights they may have. If they want to maintain any hope, they will have to fight still harder at long last to achieve the status of full-fledged citizens. However, the accumulation of frustrations and setbacks resulting from our numerous fights in the past make me fear that many of my fellow citizens in several regions of Canada will grow too tired to continue the fight. The ever threatening assimilation and the disappearance of the French fact throughout Canada will be our lot and history will say that we are all responsible for it.

The Minister of Justice did point out to me that there is in this resolution a mechanism which will enable us to make

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changes. However, Mr. Speaker, I entertain very little hope of having our rights acknowledged one day, and I know there is no need for me to recall all the statements made by Mr. Davis and the other premiers to make myself understood here this evening, even if there are mechanisms for making changes. How can anyone believe that those changes will be possible later when people are so set against them today? That is indeed the price demanded by Mr. Davis in exchange for his support of the constitutional package. It is certainly not the people of this country who reject equality of treatment, and this proves once again that people are often ahead of their leaders. In Ontario, on a provincial basis, more than 53 per cent of the residents would agree to have Section 133 applied to the province. On a local basis, in my riding of Ottawa-Vanier, more than 73 per cent of the people want for the Ontario minority constitutional rights equal to those enjoyed by the Quebec minority.

What is the federal government waiting for? Who is responsible for the protection of the rights of Canadians in this country? The Government of Canada or the provincial governments? When I see how the constitutional discussions are conducted, the answer becomes very clear to me. The federal government proposes, but in fact the provinces are the ones which decide.

Repeatedly, the provincial premiers have shown their utter indifference to the needs of francophones outside Quebec, and I have no intention of putting my future in their hands. Mr. Speaker, as a French-speaking Ontarian, I am against entrenchment under those conditions, and I always will be. The provinces cannot be trusted to guarantee the survival of the French language and French culture in Canada.

Mr. Jim Peterson (Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Justice and Minister of State for Social Development): Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the hon. member for Ottawa-Vanier (Mr. Gauthier) on his good work on behalf of the francophones outside Quebec. He has become their conscience in this House.

However, we must realize what this government has accomplished, especially in the Constitution: first, official bilingualism at the federal level; second, equality of both language groups; third, education rights for minority language groups in all Canadian provinces, for the first time.

Since Mr. Chrétien answered the question put by the hon. member for Ottawa-Vanier, I am going to quote his reply:

I do agree that it is unfortunate that Ontario has not decided to make French one of the languages used in the courts and in the Ontario legislature. However, in our charter and in our constitutional resolution, we have provided for a mechanism that will enable the provinces to make such changes through bilateral agreements, and I would ask the provinces to consider such action as soon as possible.

Granted, Section 133 does not apply in all parts of Canada. Official bilingualism will not be a fact throughout our country. We regret this, and at the same time, we hope that the province of Ontario will agree to introduce this provision, and in so doing, demonstrate to francophones outside Quebec and to French-speaking Ontarians that they are not second-class citizens. We should realize how lucky we are as Canadians to have two languages and cultures that are among the richest in the worid. I hope that we shall be able to take full advantage of this in the future. Our new Constitution is a step in that direction.

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