Canada - Languages

English and French are the official languages of Canada and have equal status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all governmental institutions. The federal constitution also gives the English and French minorities the right to publicly funded education in their own language at the primary and secondary levels, wherever the number of children warrants it.

The constitution provides for bilingualism in the legislature and courts of Québec, New Brunswick, and Manitoba. Although there are no similarly entrenched constitutional rights in Ontario and Saskatchewan, these provinces have made English and French the official languages of the courts. In 1984, the Northwest Territories Council adopted an ordinance providing for the use of aboriginal languages and establishing English and French as official languages.

English was proclaimed the sole official language of Manitoba in 1890, and French was made the official language of Québec in 1974. However, the 1890 Manitoba legislation was declared unconstitutional in 1979, as was a Québec law passed in 1977 declaring French to be the sole language of the legislature and the courts.

Although Canada is frequently referred to as a bilingual country, only a minority are able to speak both English and French. In Québec, more than 80% of the people speak French as a native language; in the other provinces, most of the people speak only English, although there are sizable proportions of people able to speak French in New Brunswick and parts of Ontario and Manitoba. Some 60% of Canadians report that their only mother tongue is English, and only about 24% say that is French. About 15% report a single mother tongue other than English or French. Italian, German, Chinese, Ukrainian, Portuguese, and Polish are spoken by small numbers of people. There are at least 58 different Indian languages and dialects, in 10 major language groups. Cree is the most common Indian language.

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