Mr. Chair, members of the committee, my name is Sheila Risbud and I am the president of the Association canadienne-française de l'Alberta, the ACFA.
Thank you for the invitation to testify before you today. Your work is tremendously important for the future of French in Alberta and elsewhere.
What is the ACFA? Founded in 1926, the ACFA defends the rights of Alberta's francophone community, advances its rights and enhances its vitality. The ACFA represents more than 250,000 French-speaking Albertans, a population that grew by over 50% between 1991 and 2016.
It is astonishing that I am speaking in French today, as there was no French-language school in Edmonton throughout nearly my entire education. My parents had no choice but to use French immersion programs managed by the anglophone majority. I am relieved that, thanks to section 23 of the charter, my three children are receiving an education in French and not immersion in Calgary.
At home, in Calgary, the French-language schools are overflowing. The problem is the same across Alberta. Why? The census considerably underestimates the number of children of rights holders under section 23 of the charter. That should change immediately. The failure to enumerate all the children of rights holders in Alberta harms the vitality and sustainability of French. How many French-language schools are we entitled to in Calgary? It is impossible to answer that, as most of the eligible children are not enumerated.
Let me be as clear as possible. It remains impossible to determine with any accuracy the request justifying education in French in Alberta. Why? Because Statistics Canada counts only one of the three categories of children eligible for education in French. That problem is not new. It has persisted since 1982, when section 23 of the charter came into force. Since 1982, Statistics Canada has carried out seven censuses. In reality, those have been seven missed opportunities.
The ACFA is proud to have produced and disseminated, with the Fédération des conseils scolaires francophones de l'Alberta, the very first major study on the necessary changes to the census. We are especially proud that the study helped your committee make this recommendation:
That the Government of Canada require Statistics Canada to include questions in the 2021 Census that would allow for the enumeration of all rights-holders under the broadest interpretation of paragraphs 23(1)(a) and (b) and subsection 23(2) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
That said, the ACFA is surprised that Statistics Canada continues to hesistate to implement your committee's recommendation. Alberta's francophone community is struggling to accept the fact that the federal government has still not confirmed the addition of questions necessary for the enumeration of all children of rights holders to the short form census questionnaire. The brief you received before my presentation today clearly explains that the long form questionnaire does not make it possible to address this shortcoming. Only questions in the short form questionnaire will satisfy the Albertan francophonie.
The ACFA refuses to believe that the future of French outside Quebec may rest between the hands of Statistics Canada. The ACFA's expectations from the members of cabinet are high. In fact, under the Statistics Act, the government, and not Statistics Canada, is in charge of laying out the questions of the short form census.
The ACFA thanks Statistics Canada for collaborating by testing the questions the francophonie needs. I invite you to look at the brief our association submitted. On page 8, under tab 2, are provided the questions Statistics Canada tested in 2019. You will see that the conclusion is encouraging. The analysis work is finished. The required questions exist, and they work.
There you will see the questions Statistics Canada tested in 2019, and you will see that the conclusion is encouraging. The analysis work is finished. The required questions exist, and they work.
Everyone knows what the next and last stage is. The federal government must prescribe the questions to enumerate the children of all right holders in the census short form questionnaire and not only in the long form questionnaire.
The ACFA is counting on the members of this committee to intercede with the members of cabinet to ensure that the only right decision is made soon. At this stage of the file, only one political action will help guarantee the sustainability of our minority francophone communities.
Thank you for your attention.