Mr. Chair, members of the committee, good afternoon.
I want to thank you for your invitation to participate in the ongoing study on the modernization of the Official Languages Act.
“Imagine being condemned in a language you don't understand or only slightly understand.” This is how the Senate Communications Branch launched its fourth interim report on the justice sector on April 10 of this year. Such examples can be multiplied. Imagine being cared for by a doctor or nurse who speaks a language you don't understand or only slightly understand. Imagine receiving tax advice in a language you only slightly understand.
I am the Executive Director of the Association des collèges et universités de la francophonie canadienne (ACUFC), composed of 21 francophone or bilingual colleges and universities in French-speaking minority communities across Canada.
The association's member institutions offer more than 1,200 French or bilingual programs of study in all disciplines. More than 42,000 students attend these institutions and nearly 10,000 graduate each year.
It is important to note that the association's mission goes well beyond the provision of French-language educational programs. We know that education is a provincial jurisdiction, but that is not what I want to talk about today. I want to talk to you about the importance of French-language education in the vitality of communities.
Vitality is a federal responsibility. How can we talk about progress towards equality of status and use without talking about a right to education in French? By training professionals in all spheres of life, including health, justice, education, psychology, administration, engineering and research, for example, member colleges and universities contribute to the vitality of francophone minority communities, to Canada's economic growth, to the transmission of knowledge and to the provision of services in both official languages across Canada.
As part of the modernization of the Official Languages Act, my goal today is to present a single message and a single recommendation.
The message is this: without a right of access to education in French as a first or a second language, from early childhood to post-secondary levels, we cannot talk about the equal status of Canada's two official languages.
It is time to recognize and clearly state that access to education in French, from early childhood to post-secondary levels, is an ideal way to ensure the equality of status of Canada's two official languages. People acquire the ability to provide services in a language because they have been trained in that language.
As parliamentarians, you exercise your right to communicate in the official language of your choice because you have been educated in that language. The same applies to federal public servants who must provide services in both official languages. The availability of services in both official languages can only be guaranteed if Canadians have equal access to education in French on an equal basis with English.
As former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli said: “Upon the education of the people of this country the fate of this country depends.” Members of the committee, it is time to recognize and to affirm the importance of education in French to truly guarantee the equal status of the two official languages of our country.
To this end, the association asks the committee to recommend that the following be added to the purpose of the Official Languages Act, which would read as follows:
The purpose of this Act is: [...] To recognize and guarantee the right to education in French as a first or second language, from early childhood to post-secondary levels, as a means of ensuring the substantive equality of status of Canada's two official languages.