Could Saskatchewan become bilingual?


New book published at the U of R on a pioneering case

Sophie Bouffard and Peter Dorrington discuss the Caron case. / Michael Chmielewski

Sophie Bouffard and Peter Dorrington discuss the Caron case. / Michael Chmielewski

A minor traffic violation from 2003 in Alberta could end up having massive repercussions for both Alberta and Saskatchewan in 2015.

From its humble origins in Alberta the case has worked its way up the Canadian judicial process all the way to the Supreme Court. The highest court in the land started hearing arguments on Feb. 13, 2015, and the ruling may potentially turn Saskatchewan and Alberta into bilingual provinces, much like Manitoba, but not like New Brunswick, the only officially bilingual province in Canada.

This would mean that both French and English would have an official status in the legislative and judicial spheres of the prairie provinces, which isn’t the case today.

After illegally turning left on a red light, a Francophone trucker named Gilles Caron living in Edmonton asked the provincial court for a trial in French, thus “challenging the validity of the ticket since it was issued in English only,” according to the foreword in a 2014 book called Le statut du français dans l’Ouest canadien: la cause Caron, co-edited by the director of the Institut Français Sophie Bouffard and U of R French professor Peter Dorrington.

This book, which the Supreme Court requested a copy of, has its roots here, especially at the Institut Français. Bouffard explained that a “rigorous” process went into selecting the articles that would make up the book, which has its origins in a 2010 conference on the Caron case held at the Institut.

This research is completely new and is a developing case that could prove consequential for western provinces.

Bouffard explained that the “research that was done that supports this case really is totally original and gives us a new way of looking at our history here in western Canada, and hence our future.”

Translated as The Status of French in Western Canada: the Caron Case, an English version of the book is yet to be released.

Although the arguments involved in the case have complex political, social and historical factors, an important and often-overlooked fact is that western Canada does have bilingual roots, and these come from the Métis peoples of the prairies.

“I’m proud of the Métis. They serve as an example of what Canada could and should be. They were a fully bilingual people, it was intercultural, and the west was bilingual long before Canada came along,” said Dorrington.

The outcome of the case will be important for the province’s French community, the Fransaskois, but it’s important to realize that “it’s not like there’s going be some draconian bilingualism imposed on the province of Saskatchewan, French isn’t going to be rammed down anyone’s throat,” said Dorrington.

Dorrington believes that progress on issues such as this will help with others, such as Canada’s relationship with its Aboriginal population.

“I think we still have a lot of work to do, but here we have a wonderful example, here in the west, before it was called Canada, way ahead of our time, in many respects way ahead of us, where we are today, and it’s about finding that again.”

“It can be very uplifting for the country, really,” said Dorrington.

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