Respect for language rights a must

As a Saint John native, it is not often that I express disappointment in my community. When I stumbled upon the Facebook group ‘New Brunswick Referendum on Bilingualism 2014,’ I was not surprised that someone was engaging in the age-old provincial complaint that the French are draining us of our resources and eliminating job opportunities for Anglophones. I was disappointed in the support this group has received and in the ignorance of so many citizens of the province I call home.

Jason McBride created the group after being denied employment in the service industry because of his inability to speak French. He claims that official bilingualism is bankrupting our province and leaving Anglophones like himself under-qualified and unemployed. In an interview with the CBC, he claimed to have received “passionate responses” of support from members of New Brunswick’s Anglophone and Francophone communities who support his cause.

To an extent, I see where McBride is coming from. He lives in an Anglophone community and doesn’t understand why he can’t get a job in his city without French skills. He is also frustrated by the lack of adult French education programs in this province, and in that respect I completely agree. There should be government resources in place for those who want to learn their province’s official languages.

However, McBride speaks about a bilingual province as if all Francophone residents are fluent in English. He expresses a severe lack of cultural and historical awareness of his home province, though these are keys to the discussion. Take Sackville as an example: If you were to examine the culture of Sackville based on the Mount Allison campus, it is easy to say that we live in a community full of young, well-educated hipsters. But this generalization does not represent Sackville as a whole, just like the culture and language preferences of Saint John do not represent the culture of New Brunswick as a whole.

My message to anyone who agrees with the views put forward by this Facebook group is to put yourself in the shoes of a unilingual Francophone New Brunswicker. When you access services such as hospital care, you are served in your official language of choice. As a result of our colonial history, this is your constitutional right as a New Brunswicker, according to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Take, for example, a Caraquet hospital deciding to solely provide public services in French. According to the 2011 census, of the 4,030 residents of Caraquet, 65 are Anglophone. Based on those figures, according to the majority rules argument put forward by McBride, it would be “fiscally irresponsible” for this hospital to provide services in English. If McBride then found himself in need of medical attention in Caraquet, the hospital would refuse to serve him in English. They would therefore defy his constitutional rights, just as he has suggested that we do to the French minority in southern New Brunswick. I don’t believe he would take too kindly to this prospect.

This is far more than a monetary issue. It is an issue of respecting cultural differences and our province’s history. The inability to speak English does not make anyone less of a New Brunswicker, and ultimately, to eliminate official bilingualism would segregate unilingual Francophones and marginalize Acadian communities.

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