Franco-Ontarian students demand Ottawa be officially bilingual

Close to 1,000 Franco-Ontarian students marched through downtown Ottawa Wednesday morning, demanding Ottawa city council declare the city officially bilingual.

Students argue Canada 150 celebrations offer perfect opportunity

Grade 10 student Éliane Fiset was among the 1,000 Franco-Ontarian students who marched to Ottawa city hall Wednesday.

Close to 1,000 Franco-Ontarian students marched through downtown Ottawa Wednesday morning, demanding Ottawa city council declare the city officially bilingual.

The sea of green and white marchers, representing the colours of the Franco-Ontarian flag, chanted calls for a bilingual Ottawa, as they made their way from Strathcona Park in Sandy Hill, to rally and speeches outside Ottawa City Hall. 
Grade 11 student Pablo Mhanna-Sandoval, president of the Fédération de la jeunesse franco-ontarienne, says he doesn't believe fears of rising costs and lost jobs if Ottawa is made officially bilingual are true. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

While the request from Ottawa's Francophone community is not new, the students said the upcoming July 1st celebration for Canada's 150th anniversary presents the ideal time to make the declaration. 

"This is simply taking a policy that's working quite well for many, and making it official," said Grade 11 student and president of the Fédération de la jeunesse franco-ontarienne Pablo Mhanna-Sandoval, referring to the city's bilingualism policy adopted in 2001.

"If a mayor and council were to be elected in the future, and they were less friendly to francophones, it would be very easy for them to repeal these policies," said Mhanna-Sandoval.

Fears unfounded, say marchers

Mhanna-Sandoval admits critics of making Ottawa officially bilingual have so far been successful in delivering their message, when they argue the city could face additional costs for language training, or when they argue that many city jobs would become unavailable to unilingual English candidates.

"The scare mongering on the other side has had an effect," said Mhanna-Sandoval. He said he believes fears of fees, economic loss and job losses are unfounded.

To grade 10 student Éliane Fiset, a bilingual declaration would also boost Ottawa's profile both nationally and internationally. 

"The country doesn't see Ottawa as bilingual. It sees Ottawa as an anglophone city that has francophone services. It's not the same to me as being officially bilingual," said Fiset. 

Hundreds demand a bilingual Ottawa

6 years ago
Duration 0:43
Nearly 1,000 Franco-Ontarian students marched through downtown Ottawa, calling for the city to be declared officially bilingual.

The sight of a thousand Franco-Ontarian youth rallying for their rights in front of city hall was especially significant for some of the adult activists in the crowd.

"I think it's fabulous that they're involved, because it's their future, it's their city, and they want services in French," said Suzanne Copping. the general manager of the Fondation Franco-Ontarienne.

'It's going to happen'

Copping said despite the repeated rejections for official bilingualism, she remains optimistic. 

"It's going to happen, for sure. I come from a family that fought for French schools, and we've got them," said Copping.

Not in attendance to hear first hand from the crowd was Ottawa mayor Jim Watson, who was en route to Montreal for meetings with Montreal's mayor Denis Coderre.

An email from Watson's staff Wednesday said the mayor holds the position that the City of Ottawa is in fact bilingual, as stated in the city's bylaws, and that the city's services and programs are all offered to residents in both English and French.

The student's efforts continue Wednesday evening with a rally including musical performances and sketches scheduled at De La Salle High school in Lowertown.​

The marchers appeared to get some support from a representative of the provincial government.

Ottawa–Vanier Liberal MPP Nathalie Des Rosiers introduced a Private Member Bill on Wednesday that, if passed, would recognize the bilingual character of the National Capital by including Ottawa's existing bilingualism bylaw and language policy in the City of Ottawa Act. 

Franco-Ontarian students march along Laurier Avenue on their way from Strathcona Park to Ottawa city hall. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)