Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Multiculturalism within a Bilingual Framework: A Retrospective

Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Multiculturalism within a Bilingual Framework: A Retrospective

Article excerpt

BILINGUAL, BINATIONAL, BICULTURAL: CANADIAN FOUNDING MYTHS

On March 7, 2012, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto held a public event on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, the final installment in the second series of its very popular History Wars at the ROM, which explored "some of the most provocative subjects and personalities in Canadian history" (ROM 2014). This particular debate had as its central proposition that "Canada is not Bilingual, Binational or Bicultural." It featured Antonia Maioni, Associate Professor of Political Science at McGill University and former Director of the McGill Centre for the Study of Canada, speaking against the proposition; David Bercuson, Professor of History at the University of Calgary, speaking in favour of the proposition; and Michael Bliss, a historian at the University of Toronto, moderating the debate for a mostly older and white audience of roughly five hundred people. How the arguments were framed was significant.

During the debate, Bercuson did not build his argument in favour of the proposition on the basis of the "multicultural fact" of Canada, which is a common rhetorical strategy these days; rather, he emphasized that most Canadians were overwhelmingly monolingual in one of the official languages - mainly English. A study in contrast, Maioni strongly argued that Canada was indeed bilingual, bicultural, and binational and, moreover, stated emphatically that multiculturalism in Canada does not exist in a vacuum but is associated with and rooted in the prior existence of two distinct cultural and linguistic settings, that is, the founding cultures. Notably, despite their apparently opposing viewpoints, both Bercuson and Maioni shared a belief that Canada is a white settler society of "two founding races," that is, a nation founded by white English and French-speaking peoples. In this book, I attempt to unravel how it is that this discourse about Canada came to be normalized through state processes and practices.

The ROM debate idea that Canada has is at its core a dual white settler founding nation is not an idea that is specific to academia, as shown by the public reactions to Statistics Canada's release of the 2011 census data on language in late 2012 (Statistics Canada 2014). Given the general interest in language issues in Canada, this data release on language use across the country generated nationwide media coverage and attendant commentaries. Although the data suggested an increasing presence of immigrant languages (such as Tagalog, Cantonese, and Arabic among twenty-two other immigrant mother tongues) in Canada, with one fifth of the population speaking a language other than English or French in the home, the 2011 figures also showed that the official languages remained robust with 58% of the Canadian population reporting English as a mother tongue, 22% reporting French as a mother tongue and 98% stating they were able to conduct a conversation in either English or French.

The media scrutiny and extensive public reactions to these stories, however, focused mainly on the increase in non-official language use, generating such headlines as "Is Multiculturalism Stifling Bilingualism?" (Scoffield 2012). As well, reactions to these stories were exemplified in online reader comments such as, "When you are in Canada, nothing but French and English. If you dislike that go back where you came from" (Friesen 2012). The hundreds of online comments and letters posted in response to these stories made it obvious that for many, these figures on language produced deep racialized anxieties about multiculturalism and its adverse effects on the imagined nation of the two "founding races" (20). It is clear that more than forty years after the multiculturalism policy was adopted in Canada, these public debates, which harken back explicitly to the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism (1963-1970), remain stubbornly entrenched in a binary that ultimately sediments around the central question of the privileged status of the two founding nations/cultures. …

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