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Chapter 12: Language, Diversity, and Aboriginal Politics

CBC Archives

Anglophone Identity in Quebec
While French is the mother tongue of the vast majority of Quebecers, there has always been a vibrant minority of native English speakers in the province.  This report from 1973 focuses on Quebec City's English community and how it was adapting to the immense changes occurring in Quebec at the time, particularly with regard to language.     

René Lévesque and Quebec Nationalism
René Lévesque was one of the most important figures in modern Quebec history. His Parti Quebecois government strongly asserted French language rights when in power from 1976 to 1985, passing, for example, Bill 101. But Levesque was notable for another highly significant event in Quebec's Quiet Revolution. He was the minister responsible for the development of Quebec's huge hydro project on the Manicouagan River. In this interview Lévesque explains why Manicouagan represents a chance to fulfill the philosophy of "maîtres chez nous," or "masters in our own house."

Bill 101
Bill 101 (the French language charter) was adopted on August 26, 1977 by the Parti Quebecois government of René Lévesque. The objective of Bill 101 was to preserve and promote the French language in Quebec, if not to turn the province from traditionally bilingual to unilingual.  In this report we learn how Bill 101 is a component in a master plan to free Quebec from the economic dominance of the province's English minority.

Bilingualism and Biculturalism (B&B) Commission
Language issues have simmered under the surface of Canada's political culture for centuries. The 1960s were a period of particularly active debate over Canada's language policies. In 1963, Prime Minister Lester Pearson established the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, the historic Laurendeau-Dunton Commission. Nearly twenty years later, an annual report found that more Canadians can speak both French and English. But the official languages commissioner says too many top civil servants still don't speak French well enough, as we learn here.

United Empire Loyalists
Among those who left the United States for Canada after the American Revolution, the United Empire Loyalists, were blacks granted freedom. These immigrants are the subject of the novel The Book of Negroes. The protagonist, Aminata Diallo, is sent to Canada in 1783 as a reward for supporting the British during the American Revolution. There she settles in the black ghetto known as "Birchtown" on the outskirts of Shelburne, N.S. As we see in this 1999 CBC Television clip, historians and architects are still keeping an eye out for artifacts from the site of this early settlement.

Multiculturalism Launched in 1971s
Canada is a nation that celebrates and promotes multiculturalism, which became official policy in 1971.   This 2004 retrospective looks back on the impact of multiculturalism on Canada in the policy's first thirty years. 

Wearing of the Kirpan in School
In the period since multiculturalism became official policy in 1971, difficult questions have arisen over what is an acceptable display of cultural identity. One such question arose over the question of whether a young Sikh boy could wear a kirpan (a small ceremonial dagger) in the classroom. In this 1996 report we see how cultural rights can clash with secular rights such as personal security in a multicultural society.

Herb Gray Profile
Canada's first Jewish member of a federal Cabinet was Windsor Member of Parliament Herb Gray. In this amusing report we learn more about Gray, whose interests outside of Parliament may surprise many because of their apparent contradiction of his public persona. 

Sikh Mounties Permitted to Wear Turbans
There is pressure on national institutions to reflect Canada’s increasingly multicultural society.  A clash between tradition and accommodation occurred when Baltej Singh Dhillon was accepted into the RCMP. He faced a choice: serve his country or wear his turban. He chose to fight for his religious rights and in 1990 the federal government removed the ban preventing Sikhs in the RCMP from wearing turbans.

Person's Case
The 1929 ruling known as the Persons case was a milestone for women in Canada.  Under Canadian law women were not persons at the time and were consequently denied rights. Five Alberta women took this issue to the Privy Council of the British government—in those days Canada's highest court. On October 18, 1929, they won. In this CBC Radio clip from June 11, 1938, Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King unveils a plaque commemorating the women activists. Nellie McClung, one of the only two surviving of the "famous five," speaks of the historic struggle.

Bertha Wilson First Woman on Supreme Court
After years of surmounting barriers to career progress because of her gender, Bertha Wilson was appointed Canada's first female Supreme Court justice in 1982.  Here, The National assesses this historic event.

Agnes Macphail: First Female Member of Parliament
In 1921 Agnes Macphail became the first woman elected to Canada's House of Commons. Here we hear the voice of Macphail as she addresses a group of students gathered at the University of Toronto's Convocation Hall on the subject, "Women in Parliament: Why Aren't There More?"

Kim Campbell: First Female Prime Minister
In 1993 Kim Campbell is elected leader of the Progressive Conservative Party thereby becoming Canada's first woman prime minister. In this CBC television clip the crowd at the convention chants, "Campbell! Campbell!" as the newly crowned leader makes her first comments following the historic outcome.

Matthew Coon Come and the James Bay Development
Canada's Aboriginal peoples have historically clashed with federal, provincial, and territorial governments over the impact of development on their community's economic and social well-being. One such clash occurred over the James Bay hydro developments in northern Quebec. Here Chief Matthew Coon Come elaborates on the issues with CBC host Ralph Benergui.

The Impact of the Indian Act
The Indian Act has governed the rights and freedoms of Canada's First Nations people since 1876. In this 1982 look back, the CBC program Our Native Land assesses the more than 100 years of the Act's impact on the lives of Canada's Aboriginals.

Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples
After more than five years of hearings and studies and $58 million dollars, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples released its long-awaited report in 1996. As detailed in this series of CBC Radio reports, a key recommendation is Aboriginal self-government and the creation of the House of First Peoples, which would act alongside the House of Commons and the Senate. Neither has come to pass.

Apology for Residential Schools
With all the pomp and ceremony of parliamentary tradition, in 2008 Canada's Aboriginal peoples received a symbolic apology for residential schools. Residential schools were part of a policy to assimilate Canada's Aboriginal peoples and resulted in tragic cases of abuse. The prime minister and the leaders of the opposition all extend their personal apologies in this report.

Nunavut Plebiscite
In 1982 the first step leading to the establishment of Nunavut, Canada's newest territory, was taken in a plebiscite on whether to split the eastern Arctic region from the Northwest Territory. As we see, residents chose to sever Nunavut from NWT.

Nunavut Born
On April 1st, 1999, Canada's newest territory, Nunavut, was born. The birth of self-government for Canada's Inuit is recounted in this CBC Radio report.

TVO's The Agenda

She Is a Leader
The Agenda asks: Are our expectations of female leaders different than our expectations of male leaders? As women enter leadership roles in politics and business, is our perception of leadership qualities changing?

Canadian Immigration: Culture Clash
Are Canadians warm and welcoming? Are we too permissive and tolerant? Do we raise our children with too much freedom? Newly arrived immigrants describe what most surprised them about Canadian culture.

Idle No More: Protest to Change?
The Agenda examines the momentum behind the Idle No More movement.