Sunday, July 03, 2005

Bilingual Apartheid

The federal public service has done everything about official bilingualism, it seems, except actually ask public servants their honest opinions about it.

Now they have, and the powers that be are shocked, SHOCKED, to learn that anglophones don't like it much and immigrants like it even less:

A series of focus groups, designed to explore whether official languages policy poses career barriers for minority groups, turned up some uncomfortable perceptions about what is supposed to be a motherhood issue for federal employees.

"We can clearly assert that official languages policies remain imperfectly understood and far from widely endorsed," says a report prepared for the Public Service Human Resources Management Agency.


"For most anglophones, it is clear that the official languages policies impact life at work and is something that can potentially impose limits or demands on them as employees," said the focus group report, first submitted in March 2004.

Among anglophones "the imperative to learn French is more political than practical," and the policy is considered to be "motivated by the central authority in Ottawa."

Francophones, by contrast, view bilingualism "in wider terms that include the survival of the French language and the exercise of basic rights," said the study.

Newcomers to Canada who had accents and multiple languages - other than French and English - also felt that mastering two new official languages was an unreasonable burden and an impediment to their careers.

Yet the focus groups shared some common complaints.

One was "the folly" of forcing older unilingual workers who are in line for promotions to learn a second language at the end of their careers.

A related gripe concerned shunting aside people who are about to be promoted for up to 18 months of full-time French lessons, which focus groups said can "extract a tangible and difficult-to-justify price in terms of efficiency and logic."

And finally, bureaucrats complained of bilingual-designated jobs that only ever require French during rare meetings in Ottawa.

One effect that hasn't been considered, but which has been widely noted, is the extent to which enforced official bilingualism for more and more civil service positions has effectively reduced the candidate pool to persons from the few geographical areas where bilingualism exists in reality, not just in law.

As the civil service gets drawn increasingly from that shallow pool of candidates northern and eastern Ontario and western Quebec, its perspective and experience becomes just as limited.

Departments where regional concerns are especially sensitive--Agriculture in the West, Fisheries in the East and B.C.--may well suffer for the lack of perspective from persons from those regions in the departments. In turn, people see the civil service as essentially a colonial civil service sent from Ottawa to govern an unfamiliar people and problems.

Moreover, the imposition of bilingualism requirements which are not employed in practice discourages qualified applicants from applying in the first place, thus closing the ranks more tightly than any mediaeval trade guild.

How will people support a government for which most of them would never be permitted to work, because of when and where they were born?

Source: Canoe

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