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Mounties carry in the Canadian flag into B.C. Place during the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver Winter Olympics on Feb. 12, 2010. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Mounties carry in the Canadian flag into B.C. Place during the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver Winter Olympics on Feb. 12, 2010. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

Globe editorial

Les jeux du Canada Add to ...

The most watched event in Canadian history was a celebration of the richness of Canadian identity. Among all the wonders of the Olympic opening ceremonies, though, there was a glaring and audible neglect of one of Canada's two official languages. The problem ought to be rectified in time for the Games' closing ceremonies.

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In the celebratory aftermath, a few public figures bravely stepped forward to note the oversight. James Moore, the Heritage Minister, said, "There should have been more French. Period, full stop." Graham Fraser, the Commissioner of Official Languages, called the ceremonies "a concert ... conceived, developed and presented in English, with a French song." Jean Charest, the Premier of Quebec, also pointed out the relative absence of French.

A content analysis shows these leaders' criticisms were mostly valid. None of the literary passages (save the French parts of O Canada, a song originally written in French) were in French; one, by the poet François-Xavier Garneau, was translated into English for the audience. Just one song was sung in French only, and the speech by John Furlong, the chief executive officer of the Vancouver Organizing Committee, was almost entirely in English.

This is no mere irritant, or a matter of political correctness. A celebration of Canadian history, identity and nationhood must - some would argue by definition - give equal pride of place to French and Canada's seven million-plus francophones. Moreover, with English, French is one of the official languages of the Olympic movement.

VANOC's defensive reaction to this criticism was peculiar. That Céline Dion was invited to take part in the opening ceremonies, or that "franco-Canadian" performers were involved, does not really address the problem. Unlike other forms of culture, language is not easily represented, even by proxies as famous as Ms. Dion; it is something that draws and gives life by the very act of being used and uttered.

Monday-morning quarterbacking of the ceremonies is easy, as is neglect of Canada's French fact in a city where only 8 per cent of the population knows any French, and where more people speak Russian, Farsi, Chinese, Hindi or Tagalog at home. But even the most casual Olympic observer could not help but be moved by the snowboarder Alexandre Bilodeau's gold medal. It was a francophone who won Canada's first gold on Canadian soil, and his victory caused a frenzy on Vancouver's Robson Street.

These are Canada's games. While most Canadians are not bilingual, most speak either English or French, and the peaceful co-existence of the two languages is a basic, continuing reality in Canadian life. While this was not sufficiently reflected in the opening ceremonies, VANOC can look ahead and make sure Canada's sendoff to the world is done in both our official languages.

 

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