The French version of this commentary is available here.
Last week, Dominic Cardy, leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP), suggested that we should send anglophone and francophone students to school on shared bilingual buses. Here is a short essay on the school bus issue aimed at educating those who do not understand the purpose of separating Acadien kids from Anglophone kids in the school systems.
This is not an issue about “segregation” or “bilingualism”. This is an issue of linguistic duality. Section 16.1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the “Charter”) provides that “The English linguistic community and the French linguistic community in New Brunswick have equality of status and equal rights and privileges, including the right to distinct educational institutions and such distinct cultural institutions as are necessary for the preservation and promotion of those communities”.
In other words, our Constitution – the highest form of legislation in Canada – states that the French community (the “Acadiens”) and the English community of New Brunswick must have their respective school systems in order to preserve and promote these communities.
School buses are an inherent part of the schooling system. Thus, the 8 buses (out of 1200) in NB that have a mix of French and English students are unconstitutional.
But, how did we get to that point? Surely it would be more efficient to have all students riding in the same buses?
Perhaps. However, this would be to the detriment of the Acadiens. As mentioned above, the Charter guarantees that the Acadiens (like the Anglophone community) have the right to their own education system for their “preservation”. You have to remember that Acadiens are a minority in this province. Their linguistic situation is much more precarious than that of the English Community. Without statutory protection such as this, the Acadiens would eventually get assimilated. In other words, we would get wiped-out.
The first Official Languages Act of New Brunswick was adopted in 1969. However, Linguistic equality was promulgated by the Government of Richard Hatfield – an Anglophone from Hartland NB – who recognized this issue in the early 1980s and provided some measures to protect the linguistic rights of Acadiens. In the early 1990s the Confederate of region party (the “CoR”) elected MLAs that advocated for the abolition of linguistic rights for the Acadiens. To prevent this imminent and important threat to the Acadiens, the then Premier of New Brunswick, Frank McKenna – an Anglophone from Apohaqui, New Brunswick – along with Federal institutions enacted Section 16.1 of the Charter mentioned above.
The decisions to provide linguistic rights to Acadiens were not taken on a whim. They were carefully crafted after thoughtful deliberations as a result of years of inequalities between the two linguistic communities of New Brunswick. These years of linguistic inequalities led to assimilation and the erosion of the Acadien community.
Don’t believe me? How many unilingual Anglophones do you know in New Brunswick that bear an Acadien last name such as LeBlanc, Leger, Ouellette, Gallant, Cormier, Comeau, Aucoin, Maillet, Caissie, Robichaud etc.? By contrast, how many people with an “English/Anglophone” last name have French as their mother tongue? The assimilation in New Brunswick continues, but at a slower rate than before the statutory linguistic protections were enacted.
I grew up in southeastern New Brunswick in the Acadien community and I know firsthand that had we shared buses with the Anglophone kids, everyone – Acadiens and Anglophones – would’ve spoken English on the buses. This is because Acadiens in New Brunswick learn the English language ( Yes – learn! I did not know anything beyond “yes”, “no” and “toaster” until the age of 11) and use it to communicate with members of the English linguistic community. Why isn’t it the other way around? Because of the same reasons French requires statutory linguistic protection: it is a minority language in New Brunswick. Mixing Anglophone kids with Acadien kids on a school bus would expedite the assimilation of the Acadiens.
And what would be next? Sharing the same schools, the same classes? We have to draw the line somewhere. School buses are part of the school systems. In light of the above, they must remain distinct.
With respect to the “economy” – sure, mixing students would reduce governmental expenditures by a small fraction – but, at what price? Is money more important than culture and identity? By reducing the issue to economics, we fail to understand the ubiquitous concept of nationalities.
So, throwing around words like “segregation” is ignoring the linguistic reality that Acadiens face every day as a minority in this province. Our survival as a community depends on the linguistic statutory protections. Riding in a school bus with other Acadiens is a right aimed at protecting our language, our identity, our culture.
In the same vein, the First nations have constitutional rights aimed at preserving their identity and their culture. By Mr. Cardy’s logic, should those rights be abolished as well? Should we ban reserves and territorial land and force them to live amongst us, thereby assimilating them and annihilating their cultures?
Adopting a colonial approach with minorities – whether with the Acadiens, with the First Nations or with any other minority – is outdated, unconstitutional, discriminatory and simply wrong in 2015.
P.S. My use of “Acadien” and not “Acadian” is deliberate. In my opinion, the Acadien community encompasses the whole French linguistic community of NB including the Brayons.