Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time.
It gives me particular pride to rise on the 66th report from the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, and the importance of adopting this report on time for its recommendations to be in place for our imminent move to West Block.
Growing up I was taught, as all Canadians have been at least since the Official Languages Act was brought in, that Canada has two official languages, representing the two foundational nations of the country we call Canada.
Canada, of course, we were taught was an Indian word meaning home. I say Indian deliberately and without an accurate translation of "Canada" in this context because that is how we were taught. It was something that never made a lot of sense and as a kid I accepted the facts as they were presented to me, but I always had a twinge of doubt.
Somehow the English and the French, two western European powers, had founded Canada. However, I asked myself questions as a kid. Why was there an Indian reserve called Doncaster number 17 almost walking distance from my house? What was being reserved? What did the Indians call it? What were these Indians we had been taught ever so vaguely about if not foundational to Canada? If there was a word Canada, what was the rest of their language? If I lived in Canada, why did I not speak Canadian?
England speaks English. France speaks French. Korea speaks Korean. Japan speaks Japanese. I did not know anything about African languages. Quite frankly, we still are not really taught about how that continent got its borders and countries or how incredibly vast Africa actually is. We were not taught anything about its numerous languages, and having that knowledge would probably only have further confused my childhood-self in my quest for understanding the missing nations in Canada, because we were never really taught about colonialism either.
My father Joseph, who has since become very learned in indigenous issues and the real history, and that is not what we were taught in school but what actually happened, told me as a child that his grandfather, Alphonse Paré, a mining engineer and later Canadian cavalry officer in the First World War, spoke four Canadian languages: French, English, Cree, and Ojibwe.
They were, my father taught me, the trading languages of his day, and acting in his capacity as a mining engineer in Timmins, itself a city named by him for his uncle Noah Timmins, he did quite a bit of trading in Northern Ontario. However, he felt no need, no obligation, to pass these additional languages on to his nine children for reasons I will never know.
Just to confuse matters, Alphonse's wife, my Welsh great-grandmother Lucy Griffith, was born in Australia, and their middle daughter, ski champion Patricia de Burgh, Pat Paré, my grandmother, was born in Ireland while her father fought on the front lines in France, directly resulting in my own middle name of de Burgh.
At the same time, I learned that on my mother Sheila's side, my Istanbul-born grandfather, Expo '67 engineer Beno Eskenazi, spoke Ladino, for which he edited the Sephardic Folk Dictionary in the 1990s precisely in order to preserve that dying language, as well as Turkish, Greek, French, and English.
My grandmother, Goldie Wolofsky, spoke Yiddish, English and French. Her own grandfather, Hirsch Wolofsky, was the publisher of der Keneder Adler, Canada's first daily Yiddish newspaper. Often I could hear my grandparents speaking to each other in Spanish and Ladino, similar enough languages to be able to communicate, but both languages I did not understand. Incidentally, my grandmother and my mother, both born and raised in Montreal, were not permitted to attend French school as they were Jewish.
These languages were not passed on to me, and I wondered why. In high school, I took German classes specifically to be able to understand Yiddish, a language related to German in the way Ladino is related to Spanish. Unfortunately, I never found anyone to practice even German with, let alone someone to convert this knowledge to Yiddish. Therefore, to this day, I speak neither German nor Yiddish, though I can exchange a few basic sentences in the former.
While three generations ago Yiddish was the third-most spoken language in Montreal, after French and English, its speakers today are small in number. Part of my own culture, part of my background, has been largely lost.
My wife Mishiel is from Mindanao, an Island fraught with civil war in the southern Philippines. Her home town of Isulan has faced two fatal bombings this summer alone. She speaks Hiligaynon, Cebuano, Aklanon, Tagalog and English.
The Philippines were occupied by the Spanish starting in the early 16th century. The country is itself named for the reigning Spanish King at that time, King Philippe the Second.
In the nearly seven years since we met for the first time at the flame in front of Parliament Hill, I have wanted to learn about her culture, their culture, prior to the arrival of the Spanish. In my efforts, I have found precious little information. While there are over 40 languages spoken today across the Philippines, most are heavily influenced by both the Spanish occupation and the subsequent American influence following their takeover of the territory at the end of the 19th century, with the 1898 Treaty of Paris.
Knowing the cultures that built who we are, who our ancestors were, who our children are is not something to be taken lightly. We are each the product of where our ancestors have been, who they were and what they have done.
Many in this place have met my daughter, Ozara, as, among her many visits to the Hill, she has been here for Halloween dressed as a parliamentary page, the Speaker of the House and, most recently, a commercial-rated pilot. Not bad for a four-year-old kid, one who I hope will grow up knowing two things: first, that there is nothing in the world that she cannot do if she chooses to; and second, where she comes from through as many generations as we can discover.
When she turned one, we tried to figure out how many languages the grandparents of her grandparents are known to have spoken, and it is very likely that there are at least some languages spoken by them of which we are not aware.
Down the Paré line, Ozara is a 14th generation Quebecker, but she comes from many lines, from many countries. We know for sure that between us, we have ancestors, at minimum, from Australia, Canada, Ireland, France, Scotland, Spain, Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, the Philippines and Wales, which is, incidentally, the same size as my riding.
Over just the past three generations, her direct ancestors spoke at minimum Aklanon, Cebuano, Cree, English, French, Greek, Hebrew, Hiligaynon, Kinaray-a, Ladino, Maguindanaon, Maranao, Ojibwe, Polish, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, Turkish, and Yiddish. Of those 19 languages, her parents, Mishiel and I, speak six, having lost 13 others along the way, and English is the only language we have in common. In my family, we have lost an average of about four languages per generation.
All of this is to say that my clarity on the whole issue of our true original languages was lacking well into my adult life. To say I fully understand it now would be a bit of a stretch.
On June 8, 2017, my friend and colleague from Winnipeg Centre rose on a question of privilege, because he had intended to speak his own cultural language, Cree, in this place and wished to be understood. The Speaker's ruling two weeks later on the topic said that this was not a question of privilege under current procedures and practices, but three months later, he wrote a letter to PROC suggesting that we take a closer look at the matter.
As a member of PROC since my arrival in this place, I said to myself, “Damn right I want to look at this topic. Who am I to tell people from this land that they cannot speak the languages of this land in Parliament, of all places?”
We often mention that we are on unceded Anishinabek lands, but we do not talk about ignoring unceded languages or disregarding unceded cultures. They are unceded in the same way. They were not given; they were taken away.
Now, to be clear, MPs can speak any language they want any time they want in this place. There is plenty of precedent, and House of Commons Procedure and Practice even addresses the issue directly. The real practical issue is to be understood. In the record, Hansard will simply say, “The member spoke in language X” and, if provided, include a translation after the fact.
Recently, the member for Ville-Marie—Le Sud-Ouest—Île-des-Soeurs rose in the House and gave an entire statement in the Mohawk language, one of several indigenous languages used as unbroken code throughout the Second World War.
On this day, the eighth day of November, we will all bring our minds together and pay our respects to the indigenous peoples who enlisted in the Canadian Armed Forces.
Let us think of them and let us remember those who fought and died in the great wars.
Let us pay our respects and let us honour those who died for us so that we could live in peace.
Let our minds be that way.
Let us remember them.
I can think of no greater irony or demonstration of our failure in this regard than that a statement by a Caucasian, delivered in this place in Mohawk, thanking indigenous soldiers for their service to defend our democracy, may only be understood a day later through a written submission, as even with a text provided, our interpreters could not tell us what was being said in a very Canadian language. These languages deserve to be understood in this House, and report 66 lays out a path to start getting us there.
I probably have some small amount of indigenous blood myself. My family being documented in Quebec since 1647, it is quite likely. The fact that I do not know for sure speaks volumes about the importance we have placed on documenting such information. It is not this possibility that motivates me. It is the fact that so many Canadians and so many people in colonized countries all over the world do not know where they are from, and as a result, who they truly are.
I know that I am the product of an enormous number of languages and cultures from all over the world that I know little to nothing about, and I personally regret that. It is not right for us to not do everything we can to preserve cultures important to the people who come from them and languages important to the people who use them.
It is doubly not right to not include languages foundational to our country in the one place that is supposed to represent everyone and everything about us. We have the option here, today, to adopt PROC report 66, which gives us a road map, a plan, a beginning to start to think about solving these issues here in the House to offer indigenous-language speaking members the opportunity to both speak and be understood in this place.
We are generations late in doing so, but with the move to West Block and the technological changes already in place in that building, it is time to act, to not delay any further. For members who do not agree, I encourage them to take it up with their caucus, itself not a Latin word but rather an unceded word from the Algonquin languages.
It is not my intention to allow my daughter to grow up not knowing this history, not recognizing that this country we call Canada, as we know it, was built on top of unceded indigenous lands, unceded indigenous cultures and unceded indigenous languages.
It is said that in North American indigenous cultures, one's value is measured not by what we have but by what we give. On that basis, these cultures and the people who represent them have infinite value, for they have given everything.
We must adopt report 66, and we must do it today. Some things can wait no longer. In case some are wondering, the Mohawk call Doncaster reserve number 17 Tioweró:ton, meaning, roughly, where the wind begins.