'This is hardly the way to go about making the Inuit language the official language of Nunavut.&
QIA wants language laws dumped, re-written
The Qikiqtani Inuit Association says the Government of Nunavut must bring in new laws that would give the Inuit language the same status within Nunavut that the French language enjoys in Quebec, under that province's famous "Bill 101" language law.
To that the end, QIA is calling on the the GN to withdraw its recently tabled language bills and completely rewrite them.
That's because QIA believes the two proposed laws will weaken, not strengthen, Inuit language rights.
"It is hard to imagine how legislation that is supposed to protect and promote the Inuit language could be turned into something that will diminish and extinguish it. But that is what the GN seems to be proposing," the QIA's president, Thomasie Alikatuktuk, said in a letter to Louis Tapardjuk, Nunavut's language minister.
And QIA asserts that Section 35 of the constitution, which protects and affirms existing aboriginal and treaty rights, gives the GN power to enact language laws that give Inuktitut precedence over English and French.
"We believe that ‘existing aboriginal rights' include Inuit language rights," Alikatuktuk said in his letter.
The QIA says that Nunavut Inuit had "high hopes" that the GN would bring in a Nunavut version of Quebec's Bill 101, also known as the Charter of the French Language, which makes French the only official language of the province.
So QIA is not happy with the GN's proposed new Official Languages Act, because it gives equal status to English and French and the Inuit language.
"Since English and French are already well-protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, we see no reason why they are given so much attention in a bill that is supposed to be all about Inuit language rights," QIA says.
What's worse, QIA says, the official languages bill and the Inuit language protection bill actually weaken the constitutional status of the Inuit language – because the GN says the official languages bill has only "quasi-constitutional status."
"Such a backward move could very well make the official languages bill itself unconstitutional," the QIA says.
They also don't like words in the Official Languages Act stating that acts passed by the Legislative Assembly of Nunavut shall be published in English and French, and that only the English and French versions are legally authoritative.
"In other words, in the Legislative Assembly of Nunavut, where the language of the majority of members is the Inuit language, the bills passed into law by those members do not have to be in the Inuit language," QIA says in their letter to Tapardjuk.
This means that even the new Official Languages Act and the new Inuit Language Protection Act would, if passed, be authoritative in their English and French versions only.
"This is hardly the way to go about making the Inuit language the official language of Nunavut," QIA says.
QIA says that other legal areas that get short shrift in the official languages act include documents such as search warrants, arrest warrants, and interim custody orders in child apprehension proceedings.
"These are examples of court decisions that affect fundamental rights of Inuit, but which are not covered by the official languages bill," the QIA says.
As for the Inuit language protection bill, the QIA says that the proposed law gives second-class status to the Inuit language, and clears the way for English and French to be the primary languages of instruction in Nunavut.
And QIA says the protection act "completely fails" to protect Inuit education rights.
Right now, the bill says that every parent with a child in school has a right to have that child receive instruction in the Inuit language.
But QIA wants the law to state that every parent has the right to have the entire education program delivered to their child in the Inuit language.
So for all those reasons, QIA wants the GN to withdraw its two language bills so they can be completely rewritten.
The two bills – Bill 6 for the Official Languages Act and Bill 7 for the Inuit Languages Protection Act – received first and second reading on June 5 and June 6.
The house then referred the bills to the legislative assembly's Ajauqtiit standing committee, which will review the bills before third reading, which will likely occur during the session that's scheduled to start Oct. 23.
It's not clear if MLAs on the Ajauqtiit committee will hold public hearings as part of their review work.
Two other key organizations are less than happy with the two language bills.
Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. says the bills are "a good start" but should do more to protect Inuit language rights, especially in education, where they say most of the education program should be delivered in Inuktitut as soon as possible.
The Association des francophones du Nunavut and the Commission scolaire francophone de Nunavut say that the bills provide weak protection for linguistic rights, because they force individuals to go to court to seek redress.
You may download the full text of Thomasie Alikatuktuk's letter by going to www.qia.ca, and click on the link marked "Documents."
For copies of the GN's two language bills, go to: www.assembly.nu.ca/english/bills/index.html.