Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The census mistake & bilingualism

This development yesterday may take the Harper government into a whole new world of trouble on their census decision, beyond the growing chorus of voices opposing the government's short-sightedness: "Languages watchdog launches census investigation."
Canada's languages watchdog launched an investigation Monday into the axing of the mandatory long census form, fearing the impact of the change on the country's English and French minority communities.

Graham Fraser, commissioner of official languages, said he would examine whether the government respected its obligations under the Official Languages Act when it made the decision late last month. The mandatory long census form is being replaced with a voluntary survey next year.

Critics from a wide range of sectors say the voluntary survey will not be a reliable source of detailed data because certain groups are unlikely to respond, creating a strong bias in the statistics.

"This credible national source of data has been a critical tool for the government to assess the vitality of official language communities," Fraser said in a statement.

"Federal departments and agencies, along with the communities themselves, have used this information to evaluate how they have evolved and determine where services need to be provided in the language of the minority community."

The Federation of Francophone and Acadian Communities had filed a complaint with Fraser's office about the census change. It noted that the short census form, which will remain mandatory, does not feature questions about knowledge or use of official languages in households.
Removing the ability to keep track of the numbers in "official language communities" could hamper the government's ability to serve those communities. It's not a stretch then to consider that a by-product of this census move could be to undermine the federal government's commitment to official bilingualism. It's hard to imagine that this was an issue the Harper government wanted to open up, with all its potent symbolism. But they may well be doing so.