Minister offers rebuttals to GN critics

Tapardjuk: GN won't change language laws


Louis Tapardjuk, Nunavut's culture and language minister, told MLAs last week that the Government of Nunavut will not cave in to critics who want big changes to its two proposed new language laws.

In an appearance before the the legislative assembly's Ajauqtiit committee, Tapardjuk insisted the GN's language law package provides "the best possible answers we can give to the many issues and concerns raised about language."

The Ajauqtiit committee, chaired by Akulliq MLA Steve Mapsalak, is now studying Bill 6, which would create a revised Official Languages Act, and Bill 7, which would create a new law called the Inuit Language Protection Act.

Groups such as Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association have launched aggressive attacks on the two bills, citing numerous weaknesses.

The two Inuit organizations told the Ajauqtiit committee this past October they cannot support the two bills in their current form, and that they're urging the GN to either withdraw or re-write them.

But Tapardjuk insists the two proposed laws would give the Inuit of Nunavut more language protection than is enjoyed by any other aboriginal people in Canada.

"This legislation will ensure that the Inuit language is at the centre of daily life and work in Nunavut," Tapardjuk said.

And Tapardjuk provided rebuttals for some of the biggest criticisms made by Inuit organizations.

In response to one of their biggest demands, that the GN translate all GN laws and regulations into the Inuit language and make them legally authoritative, Tapardjuk said "that will happen in time."

But he also said this work would consume "enormous" amounts of staff time and require the development of new terminology.

Instead, Tapardjuk said Nunavut should use "wisdom and foresight" to set language priorities.

To that end, he says the GN has set two big language priorities: education in the Inuit language and government services in the Inuit language.

As for a more rapid move towards the creation of an Inuktitut language instruction system from kindergarten to Grade 12, Tapardjuk says he supports the schedule proposed by Ed Picco, the education minister. Picco's plan would see a K-12 Inuktitut program established by 2019.

"That work is substantial and costly. To try to rush it too fast would endanger the quality of education and strain the capabilities of an already hard-pressed system," Tapardjuk told MLAs.

He said the proposed new Education Act, which Picco recently introduced, sets out how schools will implement the education provisions contained in the language protection act. Tapardjuk said he agrees with that plan.

Tapardjuk rejected two other NTI demands: that the GN make it mandatory for all civil servants to receive instruction in the Inuit language, and that the GN extend the right to work in the Inuit language to the private sector.

"While the end result of this is desirable, I believe the best means to get there are through incentives and co-operation, not by compulsion," Tapardjuk said.

Another criticism that Tapardjuk answered is that the new laws reduce the power of Nunavut's language commissioner.

The outgoing language commissioner, Johnny Kusugak, said in October that he's opposed to provisions in the new package that would transfer language promotion responsibilities to a new "language minister."

Most MLAs appear to support that position. That's because the Nunavut languages commissioner is an independent officer of the legislative assembly, and MLAs don't want the commissioner's power to be diluted.

But Tapardjuk and his officials told MLAs that the new laws actually expand the language commissioner's role.

"The language commissioner would take on added responsibilities," Tapardjuk said.

Stéphane Cloutier, an official with the Department of Culture, Language, Elders and Youth, explained that Bill 6 increases the language commissioner's power to investigate breaches of the language laws and to enforce compliance.

At the same time, the new laws give the language minister clear responsibility for language promotion, Cloutier said.

MLAs, however, don't seem convinced.

"It will be difficult for the standing committee to support the continuation of the languages commissioner as an independent officer of the House, if that role is unduly limited," Steve Mapsalak said Dec. 6 in the chair's closing comments.

Mapsalak said the standing committee is also still worried about these issues:

  • "uncertainty" over the question of whether the GN has legal jurisdiction over federal government bodies and federally-regulated companies;
  • the role of the proposed Inuit Language Authority in creating a standardized writing system – the committee says they were "surprised" to hear that will instead be done by the Department of Education;
  • the translation burden that the new laws would impose on the legislative assembly, which don't seem to apply to other government publications – the committee says that may create "a double standard."
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