Counting the number of rights-holders

Following the release of the first statistics from the 2016 Census, many experts have talked about the issues they raise and particularly about the data relating to Francophone communities.

So it’s my turn to weigh in on the subject, focusing on the issues associated with counting the number of rights-holders under section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. What follows is a summary of the brief that I presented this morning to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages.

To get to the crux of the matter, I’d like to recap the key elements of section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“Section 23 gives education rights to Francophone minority parents with Canadian citizenship who fall into one of the three rights-holder categories:

  1. parents whose first language learned and still understood is French;
  2. parents who received their elementary education in French in a minority setting; and
  3. parents with a child who was educated or is being educated in French in a minority setting.”

Everything in this statement is clear. What is problematic is that the Census does not ask questions about the last two categories of rights-holders. As a result, only parents in the first category are counted, and census data do not reflect reality for the provinces and territories. The problem goes much deeper. The education ministries and departments are using census data to determine their requirements for allocating material and financial resources. Since the figures do not cover all of the section 23 categories, the resource allocations to minority language schools do not match the actual needs of Francophone minority rights-holders. In addition, the provinces and territories could potentially use the lowest number of rights-holders, resulting in a larger cutback in necessary resources for French-language school boards.

Accordingly, I took advantage of my presentation to put forward two proposals. The first is to add two questions to the education section of the 2021 Census long form to produce a complete, representative enumeration of rights-holders. The second suggestion is to make this change in time to allow for the inclusion of these questions in the next census.

I hope that in light of the suggestions made in my brief, the Committee will consider the important issues facing minority Francophones. This is a concern that bears very close attention in the coming months.

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