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(Posted 10 a.m., Jan. 15)
Francophone coalition calls for official recognition of city's 'bilingual character'

By Fred Sherwin
Orléans Online

A coalition of francophone academics, legal experts, businessmen and more than 40 organizations and associations has put forward a proposal to designate Ottawa officially bilingual in time for the 150th celebrations. File phoo

A broad-based coalition of francophone academics, business leaders, lawyers and representatives from more than 40 different organizations is calling on the City of Ottawa to officially recognize it's bilingual character in time for next year’s sesquicentennial celebration.

A broad-based coalition of francophone academics, business leaders, lawyers and representatives from more than 40 different organizations is calling on the City of Ottawa to officially recognize it's bilingual character in time for next year’s sesquicentennial celebration.

The Movement pour une capitale du Canada officialement bilingue (MOCOB) was formed in 2014 to explore the thorny issue of official bilingual status for Ottawa.

At the time, the initiative was dismissed by Ottawa mayor Jim Watson.

In an interview with the Ottawa Citizen, Watson defended the city’s current French language services policy and said that official bilingual status wasn't necessary.

“I don’t support designating Ottawa as officially bilingual, because we already have a very good language policy in Ottawa. We’ve had it for over a decade, and it works well,” said Watson. “There’s some confusion as to what this group is asking for."

That last statement forced MOCOB to rethink its approach. After broadening the coalition to include academic leaders and legal experts, the group spent the past year developing a more “politically friendly” path to official bilingual status.

The result of that effort is contained in a communique released by the coalition earlier this month which calls for amendments to the City of Ottawa Act that echo the intent of the current French language services policy, while providing city council with the discretion to determine the scope of the accompanying bylaw and exclude certain services if they so choose.

The latter amendment is meant to allay fears in the anglophone community that official bilingual status could be used to expand existing services and increase costs.

According to coalition advisor François Larocque, who is Vice-Dean of Common Law Section of the Faculty of Law of the University of Ottawa and who helped write the suggested amendments to the Ottawa Act, the aim of the initiative is to give the francphone community’s historical status official recognition and to protect existing French language services in both provincial legislation and the city’s bylaws.

“This is what we felt was the most reasonable and most likely approach to present to City Hall and Queen's Park. It disturbs very little while meeting our aspirations,” says Larocque.

The initiative would require two simultaneous procedures:

City council must first adopt a resolution asking the province of Ontario to amend the City of Ottawa Act in order to explicitly recognize the equal status of the French and English languages in the City of Ottawa.

Concurrently, the resolution must be accompanied by an amendment to the Bilingualism By-law to give local effect to the proposed changes to the City of Ottawa Act.

The coalition is hoping to gain support among Ottawa’s anglophone community to have the changes enacted in time for Canada’s 150th birthday celebration in 2017.

“I can not think of a better way to recognize the contribution of all linguistic communities that contribute so much to the dynamism of Ottawa while celebrating cultural diversity of a proudly inclusive and welcoming community,” says coalition coordinator Jacques de Courville Nicol.

(This story was made possible thanks to their generous support of our local business partners.)

 

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