Quebecers: an investigation into the appointment of Mary Simon opens
It’s hard not to see the hubbub over the future Governor General’s lack of fluency in French as anything other than colonialism – in both official languages
Canada’s Commissioner of Official Languages is reviewing complaints received by his office regarding the recent federal appointment of Canada’s first Indigenous Governor General, Mary Simon.
In a press release released Monday, the Commissioner of Official Languages Raymond Théberge reports that his office has received “more than 400” complaints contesting the fact that Simon is not fluent in French, Canada’s other official language. Théberge says the office’s investigation “will focus on the Privy Council Office in its advisory role on this appointment.”
Most Canadians hailed the appointment of Canada’s first Inuit Governor General on July 6 as an important step towards reconciliation, especially following the recent discovery of the graves of hundreds of Indigenous children in former Indian residential schools. . Simon must be sworn in on July 26. Some would say that this is a turning point in our history.
But the appointment seems to have aroused the ire of some Quebec columnists – at least, the number of complaints to the commissioner seems to have jumped exponentially after some spoke out on Simon’s French issue. The Trudeau government may have inadvertently stoked this fire when it decided last month, under pressure from the Conservative Premier of Quebec, François Legault, to officially recognize French as the first language of Quebec with an amendment to the Quebec Act. official languages.
It’s hard to know how much this has to do with Théberge simply responding to popular sentiment in Quebec. He praised Simon’s appointment as important for the preservation of minority languages, especially indigenous languages.
“I have no doubt that his point of view and his experience will enable him to contribute to the protection of official indigenous and minority languages across the country.
But Theberge says Simon’s appointment has “sparked a lot of reaction across the country.” The exact nature of the complaints received by the office or whether any of them come from politicians or representatives of publicly funded institutions are not intended for public consumption.
Sonia Lamontagne, Senior Communications Advisor to the Commissioner, said in an email response to NOW that “as the investigation is ongoing, we must limit our comments to the specific issues raised in the complaints. In addition, since the Official Languages Act requires that our investigations be conducted in private to preserve the integrity of the process, we cannot disclose the identity of complainants.
“In his role as official languages ombudsman, the Commissioner remains independent and impartial in his examination of complaints.
This, however, did not prevent the commissioner from taking the very unusual decision to give his opinion, albeit indirectly, on the issue of Simon’s appointment.
The Commissioner shared his point of view that diversity and respect for official languages should not be seen as mutually exclusive.
“Too often, I see a discourse that puts respect for diversity and inclusion on one side, and respect for official languages on the other, as if they could not coexist. I remind decision-makers that it is entirely possible to respect official languages while being inclusive.
In this, Théberge, author of a book on the future of Francophone minority communities, seems to echo Senator René Cormier, chairman of the Senate committee responsible for studying the Federal Official Languages Act – and appointed by Trudeau.
But Simon is no stranger to Quebec. She helped negotiate the historic agreement that allowed for the development of hydroelectric dams against Cree and Inuit opposition in the province. She is the recipient of the Ordre national du Québec, the highest distinction in the province. She grew up in a village in northeastern Quebec. She pledged to learn the language she was denied the opportunity to learn as a child at a government-run school. Several eminent Quebecers, including groups representing Francophone organizations, applauded his appointment.
As Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq noted on social media, Simon is fluent in English as well as Inuktitut, “a language that has been spoken here for thousands of years.”
The loss of language and the questions of identity that come with it is something French Canadians and Indigenous peoples have had to endure in Canada for hundreds of years. There are many conflicts and contradictions. As the Queen’s representative in Canada, Simon also faces questions from his own community regarding accepting the nomination.
Théberge’s office gave no timeline on its findings. The service standard is 175 for a preliminary report. But whatever the findings, they will not be made public. Lamontagne notes that they will only be shown to complainants and federal institutions.
Théberge concluded in his statement that Canada’s language objective should be “to make our country a place where we do not have to choose between respecting the official languages and the inclusion of all”. It’s hard to disagree. But even more difficult not to see in this turmoil other than colonialism at work – in both official languages.