OTTAWA — Proposed changes to the Official Languages Act are likely to create more “arbitrary barriers” for Indigenous people hoping to work in federal institutions and advance to higher levels, says the Assembly of First Nations.
The national advocacy organization, representing more than 600 First Nations across the country, issued its warning to a parliamentary committee that is studying amendments to the law.
Last spring, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government introduced plans to reform the Official Languages Act to modernize the legislation, including more measures to promote the use of French.
In a brief submitted to the committee, the Assembly of First Nations says the bill “continues the federal government’s approach of privileging English and French while devaluing Indigenous languages.”
Among the amendments proposed to the existing language law, last touched in 1988,is the extension of language rights to federally regulated private businesses in Quebec or regions elsewhere in Canada that have a francophone population.
It also specifies that managers and supervisors in federal institutions within Ottawa and Gatineau, Que., should be able to communicate in both French and English.
Only about 10 per cent of First Nations people can speak both official languages, according to the assembly’s submission, so the proposed changes risk limiting who can access those jobs.
“First Nations peoples should not be forced to learn additional colonial languages to be eligible for positions within federal institutions,” the document says.
“The government of Canada’s approach to languages has privileged English and French over Indigenous languages. This is a modern reflection of Canadian colonialism’s exclusion of Indigenous Peoples.”
The document recommends that Parliament, in considering changes to the law, should exempt Indigenous employees in federal institutions from bilingual language requirements.
Despite presenting its concerns to the official languages committee that is studying the bill, the Assembly of First Nations has not appeared as a witness. And a list of 45 witnesses scheduled to appear does not include representatives of other Indigenous groups.
Members of Parliament on the committee have already begun debating a Liberal motion to see the bill and all of its amendments move onto the next stage of the legislative process.
Liberal MP Marc Serré, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of official languages, said Tuesday that “we’re going to look at passing the bill the way it is now.”
Serré said that organizations were invited to provide their thoughts in writing, and that the government heard from Indigenous individuals and groups during earlier consultations. But it was not clear whether he was aware of the assembly’s submission or the concerns that it contained.
Conservative MP Joël Godin, who is also a member of the committee, said Indigenous languages are separate from the matter of improving Canada’s laws around providing services in French and English.
Godin also said it appears the governing Liberals don’t want to hear from any other witnesses who could speak about the concerns brought forward by the AFN.
The office of the president of Treasury Board said in a statement Tuesday that the government recognizes that speaking an Indigenous language is an asset and it is analyzing data collected on the use of Indigenous languages by public servants in the delivery of services to Canadians.
“The Government of Canada understands that some Indigenous public servants may consider official language requirements a barrier to career progression in the federal public service,” reads the statement.
“We are developing a new second language training framework for the public service that is responsive to the needs of all learners, including the specific needs of Indigenous persons. We are also working with Indigenous employees to address any barriers they may face to learning French and English.”
Tensions over bilingual language requirements are nothing new for some Indigenous employees.
Earlier this year, the federal Treasury Board rejected a call to extend an $800 annual bonus for public servants who are required to speak French and English at work to those who speak an official language and an Indigenous language.
Some have also called for the public service to exempt Indigenous employees from having to speak both languages as a way to increase Indigenous representation within its ranks, particularly in senior positions.
The federal Liberals have said they want to preserve and promote the use of Indigenous languages. In 2019, their government passed legislation aimed to help communities do just that, after previous policies such as the residential school system sought to eradicate the languages’ existence.
But the assembly says in its submission that the 2019 legislation fails to provide anything close to the language protections offered to French in the Official Languages Act.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 29, 2022.
Stephanie Taylor and Michel Saba, The Canadian Press
Racism: Examining Injustices of Canadian Society
As the Canadian government works to create a more inclusive and just society, racism remains an issue that needs to be addressed. Racial discrimination, both conscious and unconscious, continues to be a problem throughout the country, resulting in the exclusion and marginalization of certain groups. Let’s look at why racism is still prevalent in Canada and what can be done to combat it.
The Root Causes of Racism in Canada
Racism is a systemic and deeply rooted problem in Canada that has been perpetuated through laws, policies, and practices for centuries. Every day, Canadians are confronted with the effects of racism in their lives, whether it’s seen in the workplace, at school, or even within our own homes. In order to understand how racism has become so pervasive in our society and what we can do to combat it, we must first examine its root causes.
Racism is embedded into Canadian society largely due to the historical legacy of colonialism. Through colonization, Europeans sought power and control over other nations while systematically stripping them of their culture and identity.
This resulted in a system of dominance and privilege that was heavily skewed toward white people while creating oppressive conditions for Indigenous peoples and people of colour.
As a result, many societal systems have been built on this foundation of inequality—from education to employment to housing—which has only served to further entrench racism into our society.
Discrimination is another major factor that contributes to racism in Canada. Systemic discrimination occurs when certain groups are disproportionately denied access to resources or opportunities because of their identity or perceived differences.
For example, people who are racialized often face systemic discrimination when it comes to employment; according to Statistics Canada, unemployment rates for racialized individuals were more than double those for non-racialized individuals as recently as 2018.
Similarly, Indigenous women experience higher levels of poverty than any other group in Canada due to systemic discrimination that prevents them from accessing education and employment opportunities.
Finally, institutional prejudice plays a significant role in perpetuating racism in Canada. Institutional prejudice refers to the biases that exist within institutions such as schools or workplaces which favour certain groups over others based on race or ethnicity.
These biases may be subtle or overt, but they have powerful consequences; research shows that students who identified as visible minorities are more likely to get suspended from their school than their white peers due to implicit biases held by teachers and administrators against these students’ racial backgrounds.
Similarly, workers who are racialized may be passed over for promotions despite being better qualified than their white counterparts due to underlying prejudices against them.
How Racism Impacts People
Racism can have significant impacts on individuals’ mental health, education outcomes, employment opportunities, access to resources such as healthcare services, and overall quality of life.
For example, studies have found that racial bias affects hiring decisions even when employers are unaware of their own biases. Additionally, people from minority backgrounds often experience discrimination when trying to access housing or healthcare services due to implicit biases held by service providers or institutions.
These experiences of exclusion can lead to feelings of frustration and helplessness among those impacted by racism.
What Can Be Done?
In order for us as a society to address the impacts of racism on individuals and communities across Canada, there must be an acknowledgement that racism exists and an openness towards taking actionable steps towards addressing it.
To do so effectively requires collaboration between different levels of government as well as with organizations advocating for social justice initiatives such as anti-racism campaigns.
Efforts should also include educational initiatives aimed at increasing awareness about systemic forms of racism as well as providing tools for individuals looking to challenge discriminatory behaviour within their own circles or workplaces.
Racism is still pervasive in Canada despite the efforts taken by many individuals and organizations towards creating a more equitable society free from discrimination based on race or ethnicity.
In order to address this issue effectively, we need widespread collaboration between different levels of government along with education initiatives aimed at increasing awareness around systemic forms of racism while also providing individuals with tools necessary for challenging discrimination where they see it occurring.
With everyone working together, we can create a brighter future free from bigotry and prejudice for all Canadians, regardless of their background or identity.
Is Canada in a recession? StatCan’s early estimates are saying not yet
Early indicators from Statistics Canada on show the country’s economy is slowing but might not be in recession territory yet.
The agency released new gross domestic product (GDP) data on Tuesday, showing the economy grew at a rate of 0.1 per cent in November.
Early indications show that the country’s GDP was essentially unchanged for December.
Overall, StatCan said advance information suggests a 1.6 per cent annualized increase in GDP for the fourth quarter of the year and annual growth of 3.8 per cent in 2022.
Economic growth is expected to slow in response to higher interest rates, with many economists anticipating a mild recession this year. A recession is traditionally defined as two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth.
“Overall, today’s data show that the Canadian economy continues to cool, but not as yet shift into reverse, in the face of rising interest rates,” said CIBC Senior Economist Andrew Grantham in a note to clients Tuesday.
The Bank of Canada has raised its key interest rate eight consecutive times since March, bringing it to 4.5 per cent, the highest it’s been since 2007.
After hiking interest rates last week, the central bank signalled it would take a pause to assess how higher interest rates are affecting inflation and the economy.
In November, growth in real domestic product was driven by the public sector, transportation and warehousing and finance and insurance.
Meanwhile, construction, retail and accommodation and food services contracted.
— with files from the Canadian Press
St-Onge urges provinces to accelerate efforts to make sports safer for athletes
Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge says ending abuse in sports will require complaints processes that include provincial-level athletes, not just national ones.
St-Onge and provincial sports ministers will meet during the Canada Games in mid-February where their agenda will include the ongoing effort to address widespread allegations of physical, sexual and emotional abuse in sports.
She says she asked the provincial ministers at an August meeting to look at joining the new federal sport integrity process or creating their own.
The national sports integrity commissioner can only investigate allegations of abuse from athletes at the national level.
But St-Onge says the vast majority of athletes aren’t in that category and only Quebec has its own sports integrity office capable of receiving and investigating complaints.
The national sport integrity office officially began its work last June and has since received 48 complaints from athletes.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 31, 2023.
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