Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Are bilingual Olympics the federal government's responsibility?

Representatives of the Vancouver Olympics organizing committee were hauled before Parliament's official languages committee this week, following Official Languages commissioner Graham Fraser's report last week that the Vancouver Olympics are falling far short of their obligations to provide bilingual services.

Before anyone starts railing against Canadian bilingualism, and arguing that Vancouver doesn't need bilingual signage, etc., let's look at this squarely in the context of the Olympics. The modern Olympics are the brainchild of Frenchman Baron Pierre de Coubertin. English and French are the two official languages of the Olympics - no matter what country they are held in - and when you watch the seemingly endless parade of nations, you will hear the names of countries said in both of those languages. This is not a "made in Canada" bilingualism issue - it is international and Olympic in nature. But even from a domestic vantagepoint, it would be extremely short-sighted not to think that there would be thousands of Canadian francophones descending on Vancouver for the Olympics, many of whom will only speak French (particularly if they are from Quebec, where it is quite possible and common to be a unilingual francophone). Moreover, a sizeable component of Canada's own Olympic contingent will be French-speaking.

The question for me that prompted this post relates to the first article that I linked to. VANOC is apparently going to ask the federal government for help with the estimated $1.7 million cost of providing bilingual services at the Games. I'm not completely convinced that the federal government should cover these costs, and I hold that opinion despite being an advocate of bilingualism. If the federal government has already refused to cover other funding shortfalls of the Games, I don't think that language services are necessarily in a different category. $1.7 million dollars could cover a heck of a lot of university students on second language exchanges, could train a lot of teachers, or could help support minority language schools, to name but a few alternative uses of this funding. The federal government should hold VANOC to its obligations to provide bilingual services, but I'm not convinced that it should have to bear the financial implications of this - particularly as this is not a "made in Canada" requirement of the games.

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At 4:41 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, what an interesting issue. I would assume that French/English signage etc. is a necessary part of the Olympic package for any country, given their official Olympic status -- if Vancouver is trying to prove a point, they're actually missing one???



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