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Assessment for French Canadians in Canada

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for French Canadians in Canada, 31 December 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/469f3a66305.html [accessed 12 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Canada Facts
Area:    9,970,610 sq. km.
Capital:    Ottawa
Total Population:    30,675,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

There is no reason to believe that the French Canadians outside of Quebec will be involved in militant political action in the future. They lack the organization, concentration, and past history of political action that are preconditions for rebellion. Their wide dispersion and lack of organization will also limit the group's ability to protest as well.

The fate of the French Canadians outside of Quebec is inevitably linked with those within Quebec. Attention in Canada has always been placed on negotiations between Quebec and the Federal government; those outside the province are mostly ignored. This has led, for example, to grievances about the lack of French language schools outside Quebec. Nevertheless, so long as Quebec remains a part of Canada, the rest of the French population remains somewhat protected. Accordingly, any eventual solution or lack thereof of the Quebec issue will play a strong role in determining the status of French-speakers living elsewhere in Canada.

Analytic Summary

In 1791, the British Parliament passed an act splitting its holdings in Canada into English-speaking Upper Canada (later to become Ontario) and Lower Canada (Quebec) which remained French-speaking. This split established French-speakers in Upper Canada as a minority. In 1840 Britain imposed its Act of Union, under which Quebec was joined with the rest of Canada. In 1867, the British North America Act founded Canada, including Quebec as an independent nation.

During the decades that followed the Act of Union, French Canadians put considerable effort into resisting assimilation into the dominant Anglophone culture. There was considerable resistance in Ontario in 1912 against the infamous Rule XVII which abolished French as the medium for instruction and communication in schools. The Rule was not reversed until 1968 when Bills 140 and 141 gave French Canadians in some areas access to secondary education in French. In 1969, the Official Languages Act made English and French equal in the conduct of federal business throughout Canada.

Between 1867 and the 1970s hundreds of thousands of French-speakers from Quebec migrated to other parts of Canada for economic reasons as well as due to encouragement from the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church and its focus on the parish also served as a major force in preserving the French-Canadian culture outside of Quebec. Often times, the Church provided French-speaking schools when the government was unable and/or unwilling to provide them.

With the exception of the provinces of New Brunswick (where they are approximately 38% of the population) and Ontario (5% of the most populated province), the French Canadian community outside of Quebec is quite small. French Canadians outside Quebec are awash in an English society (LANG and BELIEF = 1). As a group they are dispersed and relatively unorganized (COHESX9 = 3). The French have been in Canada longer than the English, but they have been in a disadvantaged position since the French government abandoned the region after the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in 1760 (TRADITN = 1). The French people were mainly concentrated in what was then Lower Canada (now Quebec) and in New Brunswick. The Acadians of New Brunswick were largely expelled from the country in the 17th century. When Canada became an independent state in 1867 French was made one of its two official languages.

Many French Canadians left Quebec in the period after Confederation, but they have had difficulty avoiding assimilation by the English-speaking majority. Particularly in provinces with small French populations they suffered both political and economic discrimination (ECODIS03 = 1) although today they face no demographic stress or political restrictions (POLDIS03 = 0). There is no evidence of government repression. In many provinces the French population faces restrictions in obtaining an education in French, as many provinces deem the costs outweigh the benefits to a small proportion of their population. The general lack of opportunities for education in French is a key grievance for the French Canadians outside of Quebec. Tied to this is the demand for the right to use French when dealing with the government, and there has been contention recently over making certain cities that have large French populations (i.e. Ottawa) officially bilingual. A major hindrance for this dispersed group is the lack of a national organization to represent their interests. Instead they must rely on regional and local groups. The group also receives token support from the provincial and national separatist parties of Quebec, but the latter have always been concerned primarily with the interests of Quebecois. As a result of minimal organization there has been little more than verbal opposition by this group (PROT03 = 1), and no militant or rebellious activity in the last half-century (REBEL03 = 0).

References

Lamont, Lansing Breakup: The Coming End of Canada and the Stakes for America, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1994.

Louder, Dean L. & Eric Waddell eds. French America: Mobility, Identity, and Minority Experience Across the Continent, Translated by Franklin Philip, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State U. Press, 1993.

Keesings, 1990 to 1995.

Lexis/Nexis: Facts on File, The Toronto Star, Canadian News Wire, Agence France-Presse , Deutsche Press-Agentur and Reuters 1990 to 2003.

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