CFN – Members and supporters of the local newly re-branded Language Fairness for All – LFA group were joined by members of the Ottawa based umbrella group Canadians for Language Fairness outside of the Chesterville Legion this Wednesday evening. . The delegation was there in anticipation of an opportunity to bring their cause before James Moore, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages, who would deliver the keynote address to Conservative supporters at the $50 per plate fundraiser dinner about to take place inside and hosted by Stormont, Dundas and South Glengarry Member of Parliament Guy Lauzon. Upon his arrival, North Dundas Mayor, Eric Duncan, was approached by CLF president Chris Cameron and continued to be engaged while our camera was rolling. He told Cameron that: “it’s a free country and you have every right to be here.” When asked by Cameron if he feels that the percentage of bilingual service should be in accord with language demographics, Duncan agreed that is the democratic way. In spite of Cameron’s assertion that 80% of the population is being discriminated against, Duncan was adamant that he saw no issue with Cornwall Community Hospital’s interpretation and application of the provincial French Language Services Act, saying: “I’m satisfied with what we have now and how it works out.” Cameron inquired if Duncan is comfortable with the Health Unit being 100% bilingual, to which Duncan responded: “I don’t know about the Health Unit in that regard.” Some members of the local Richelieu Club arrived for the official function in order to hear the minister speak. On the way in, Jean Lecompte, president of the La Société pour la Promotion du Bilinguisme (Society for the Promotion of Bilingualism), sporting his signature bilingualism pin, asked if he could join the LFA/CLF delegation and was greeted warmly. He then attempted to turn the event into his own personal press conference and opportunity to enlighten the group, until eventually bidded “Au revoir.” Lecompte’s rhetoric included asking the group if they’d taken any (mandatory or otherwise) French classes in grade school and insisted that this makes them and all Ontarians officially bilingual (whether or not they can communicate effectively in French). The group wasn’t buying it and pointed out that bilingualism has one meaning when funding is being sought by special interest groups and another meaning when people are being blocked from jobs for which they are otherwise well-qualified. At various times during the interaction, Lecompte said that he agreed with the protesters that the situation is not right and not fair, yet he continues to advocate for bilingualism. CCH nurse Darlene Walsh, who’s been passed over for promotions for not being sufficiently bilingual demanded of Lecompte:
“Tell me, sir, if you fall down right now with a heart attack, do I have to speak French to save your life?” His response: “you do.”
M.P. Guy Lauzon initially circumvented the delegation by slipping in a side door just ahead of Chris Cameron, declining to respond to Cameron’s request to talk. Just prior to the minister’s arrival, members of the delegation were given access to the building to use the Legion washrooms. On the way back to the parking lot, Cameron and CFN’s Don Smith crossed paths with Lauzon just inside the building. With the camera rolling Lauzon was very hospitable, greeting both men with a smile and handshake and agreeing to speak briefly on camera. The conversation was cut short with the announcement that Minister Moore had arrived and was in the parking lot. According to reports from those in attendance and consistent with a demonstration which began earlier, when Minister Moore arrived, he was greeted by protesters dressed in black, carrying a makeshift coffin declaring the death of democracy and some two dozen protesters carrying signs declaring that forced bilingualism is divisive, discriminatory, and demanding that hiring policies should be based on merit, not on language. . One of the protesters cried out: “Canada is in distress” while carrying an upside down Canada flag as a statement of how inverted language policy has become in this nation. Reportedly as Moore exited his car, he was confronted with a demand to know why he and the Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser, had not accepted requests to meet with CLF previously. No explanation was offered.
As we returned to the protest outside, Moore was already in dialogue with members of the delegation. Moore told the assembly that:
“Everybody should have the same rights and opportunities across the board.” He went on to add that: “The issue of language policy is not meant to be a barrier to the citizens themselves.” The crowd quickly enlightened him that it is indeed a huge barrier, citing numerous examples. Later the minister acknowledged: “I understand how divisive language policy is and how frustrating it can be on all sides and in all parts of the country and that’s not what language policy should be about.”
Some members of the group called for a Canada-wide referendum on language policy. Although not at all outwardly hostile towards the crowd, it was clear that the minister was unprepared to address a delegation. In the midst of heated dialogue, Lauzon calmly advised the crowd that moments earlier he’d suggested that he and Cameron meet privately at another time to address and resolve concerns. Lauzon extended the offer to Minister Moore, who agreed to meet with representatives of both the CLF and the local LFA group in Ottawa. Business cards were exchanged with a promise to meet in the coming weeks while the House is still sitting.