Alexa

Canada's French-English strife flares at Olympics

Canada's French-English strife flares at Olympics

Canada's vocal French-speaking minority is criticizing Olympic organizers' efforts to stage a bilingual French-English games in this country with a policy of two official languages.
Millions of dollars have been spent on bilingual signs in the Olympic zone, recruiting French-speaking volunteers, and ensuring translation of news conferences, speeches and documents.
Yet all those efforts failed to avert controversy, as many residents of French-speaking Quebec _ and the federal Cabinet minister with the language portfolio _ complained that the opening ceremony had too little French content for a country where it's the mother tongue of about one in four of the population.
"I was disappointed there wasn't as much French as we were expecting, as we were told that there was going to be," Heritage Minister James Moore told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. on Sunday.
Harsher criticism came from the president of the Montreal-based Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society, which advocates for Francophone rights.
"It was really pitiful," said Mario Beaulieu. "It shows that official bilingualism in Canada is a farce. It's only stated in theory to calm linguistic tides in Quebec, but the reality is it doesn't work."
About 85 percent of Canada's 6.8 million native French-speakers live in Quebec, where French is the official language and where separatist sentiment remains strong enough to influence federal policies.
British Columbia, by contrast, has one of Canada's lowest rates of native French-speakers _ less than 55,000 out of 4 million people, according to the latest Statistics Canada figures.
Opinion polls over the years have found British Columbians among the most skeptical of all Canadians about the merits of bilingualism, and the multiethnic province now has far more people who speak South Asian or Chinese dialects than speak French.
Nonetheless, the Vancouver Organizing Committee, as it prepared for the Olympics, pledged to deliver "a bilingual experience." It equipped many of its 3,000-plus French-speaking volunteers with "Bonjour" pins, ensured that the bulk of Vancouver 2010 merchandise would have bilingual logos, and arranged for play-by-play commentary and venue public announcements to be in both official languages.
VANOC nonetheless encountered a barrage of criticism over the opening ceremony, even though the show included numerous Francophone performers and the main speeches were either in both languages or translated on a video screen.
"We take any concerns by anyone seriously, and in this case it's one of our government partners," said VANOC spokeswoman Renee Smith-Valade, referring to Moore's critique.
"We listen," Smith-Valade said. "We'll adapt if necessary."
She said the ceremony, while directed by an Australian, reflected the deep involvement of two prominent producers from Quebec, as well as acrobats trained at a circus school in Montreal. And she noted that of the eight famous Canadians selected to carry the Olympic flag, three were Quebeckers _ retired Gen. Romeo Dallaire, race-car driver Jacques Villeneuve and astronaut Julie Payette.
And there was one French-Canadian superstar who had been wooed by VANOC for the ceremony but was unable to appear _ Celine Dion.
VANOC did stress the key role awarded to Quebec singer Garou, who uses only one name and performed in French just before the climactic moments of the ceremony. That didn't impress Jean-Marc Garand, a graphic designer in Montreal.
"I was angry about it," he said. "We're an important piece of Canadian history and culture, and I felt like we were mostly ignored, and I don't know if we were forgotten or if it was on purpose, or which is worse."
One striking example of English dominance over French in the ceremony came in the emotional speech by John Furlong, VANOC's CEO, whose French is not graceful.
His welcome to the Olympic community, and his passionate evocation of Canadian spirit was delivered almost entirely in English, with a few French phrases thrown in.
Francine Bolduc, VANOC's director of official languages, said she and her colleagues decided it was best for Furlong to speak mostly in the language he was comfortable with.
"We thought we could not put any additional pressure to make it more bilingual," she said. "With this speech, it's so important for the person who delivers it to really feel what they are saying."
___
Associated Press writer Amy Luft in Montreal contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-04-19 05:41 GMT+08:00