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Rachel Décoste


Harper Didn't Deserve His Spot at the Francophone Summit

Posted: 10/15/2012 12:00 am

This week, the World Francophonie Summit was held in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The bi-annual summit provides a forum for States and governments of countries who utilise the French language to engage in matters related to the linguistic ties that bind. Stephen Harper attended the conference despite his dismal record in defending the langue de Molière over his tenure Prime Minister.

In 1969, the Official Languages Act was passed by the Parliament of Canada. The law recognized English and French as official languages of the Canadian federal state. Sadly, PM Harper has demonstrated neither appreciation nor respect for French-speaking Canadians, although we form almost a quarter of the Canadian population.


Last month, Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird and his British counterpart William Hague announced an agreement allowing diplomats of the two countries to merge certain premises of diplomatic missions abroad under the cloak of cost-savings.

"As [British PM David Cameron] said when addressing the Canadian parliament last year: 'We are two nations, but under one Queen and united by one set of values,'" Hague said in a released statement.

The idea of sharing premises and the embassies of the United Kingdom was conveyed without addressing the discomfort that may be felt by francophone taxpayers who may see their right to services in their language of choice extinguished by the flagrant indifference of Conservatives.

One can safely assert that the British do not have the mandate, the obligation nor the willingness to recognize the rights enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which feted its 30th anniversary under the Harper government's deafening silence.

As government disinterested in minority rights, this was hardly the first slight committed by PM Harper who has appointed two unilingual anglophones to the Supreme Court of Canada from its arrival in office. In 2006, PM Harper's first judicial appointment, Marshall Rothstein solicited much discontent from defenders of language rights. According to a transcript of his 2006 hearing, Judge Rothstein admitted that his lack of French knowledge was a handicap: "I recognize that my not being bilingual [...] will require a greater effort on my part to hear and decide cases argued in French...." The jury is still out on which parties will bare the brunt of his shortcoming: the plaintiffs or the Supreme Court.

PM Harper repeated the offensive gesture a second time in 2011 with the appointment of unilingual judge Michael Moldaver. Harper's choices confirm his disdain for linguistic equality at the Supreme Court.

PM Harper again spit on the policy introduced by former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau when he appointed another unilingual anglophone -- this time to the position of Auditor General of Canada. In 2011, the appointment of Michael Ferguson is confirmed despite the fact that the applicant did not fulfill all essential job requirements, i.e. the ability to perform in either official language.

In the House of Commons, the scarcity of French spoken in the Conservative ranks speaks for itself. After nearly seven years in power, it laments the number of Conservative MPs who took it upon themselves to learn French, thumbing their collective noses at free language lessons. Their message, however, does not require translation: they don't give a rat's behind about the French language.

The incessant visits of British monarchs have morphed into annual multimillion-dollar expenditures. Not only the Queen but her children and grandchildren are invited to visit their subjects in Canada. The costly royal tours are defrayed in part by French-Canadian taxpayers whose ancestors suffered so greatly under the UK's colonial tyranny.

Allegiance to linguistic duality is constantly under assault in Canada, despite studies which prove it to be a benefit to children's literacy, a suppressant of dementia, and an advancement agent of cognitive kills summarized in recent New York Times article entitled "Why Bilinguals Are Smarter."

Regardless, Stephen Harper managed to capture his coveted majority government without the support of the domestic or foreign francophonies. We can therefore expect continued linguistic cleansing and additional insults to complement the existing injuries from the francophobe Prime Minister of (English) Canada.

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  • Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper is greeted by Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila and his wife Olive as Secretary General of La Francophonie Abdu Diouf looks on at the Francophonie Summit in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Saturday,Oct. 13, 2012. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson)

  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper addresse the opening session at the Francophonie Summit in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Saturday,Oct. 13, 2012. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson)

  • Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivers a speech at the opening of the French-speaking nations 'Francophonie' summit in Kinshasa on October 13, 2012. AFP PHOTO/ ISSOUF SANOGO

  • Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper and French President Francois Hollande shake hands prior to a bilateral meeting at the Francophonie Summit in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Saturday,Oct. 13, 2012. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson)

  • Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper greets students as he visits a vocational school Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012 in Dakar, Senegal. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson)

  • Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, left, meets with Senegalese President Macky Sall, at the Presidential Palace in Dakar, Senegal, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

  • Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper is accompanied by the Senegal Health Minister Awa Marie Coll Seck as he heads for his plane Friday, Oct. 12, 2012 in Dakar. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson)

  • Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, left, and Senegalese President Macky Sall speak during a press conference in Dakar, Senegal, Friday, Oct. 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)


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