Canadian Linguistic Diversity Not Reflected by Telefilm

CaptureCBC has run a story called Language barrier: Why some of Canada’s diverse filmmakers are shut out of funding, which details how Canada’s main film funding agency, Telefilm, only funds films that are made in English, French or an indigenous language. This means that every year, a variety of films are made by Canadian filmmakers that are ineligible for funding because they happen to be in languages other than English, French or an indigenous language. The article gives several examples of critically-acclaimed, award-winning films directed by Canadians of diverse linguistic backgrounds (including one who was awarded one of Telefilm’s own achievement awards) but that had been denied funding because of the film’s language. Some filmmakers have even used workarounds, such as going to the trouble of filming an alternate English-language version of their film that will never be released, simply because it means they will then qualify for funding. An interview with a Telefilm representative defends the policy on the grounds of scarcity of resources, and describes how films in indigenous languages weren’t even eligible until a few years ago.

I think this policy is out of touch with Canadian society. While I fully applaud the inclusion of indigenous languages in Telefilm’s eligibility criteria–this is of utmost importance–why have they stopped there? Why not have this eligibility criteria reflect the linguistic diversity of the Canadian population? This appears to me like the perfect example of the Eve Haque’s Multiculturalism within a Bilingual Framework (2012), the structures and related attitudes toward which continues to be present in a lot of our governmental and arms-length organizations and programs.

Multiculturalism within a Bilingual Framework means that a disconnect between language and culture and a linguistic hierarchy are built into governmental policy. Canada’s federal multiculturalism policies (section 27 of the Canadian constitution and the 1988 Canadian Multiculturalism Act) have been criticized for giving the superficial appearance of diversity, while at the same time, divorcing culture from language, as Canada also has a framework of official English-French bilingualism (enshrined in the Official Languages Act of 1969). This has meant that

by de-emphasizing the languages of other cultural groups, [official bilingualism policy] helped to create a cultural and linguistic hierarchy in Canada. While multicultural policy suggested that newcomers were free to preserve their traditional cultures, bilingualism implied the assimilation of immigrants into the cultures of the two “founding races” (Guo, 2013, p. 26-27).

This divorcing of language from culture with regards to immigrants to Canada and the idea of immigrants preserving their cultures while assimilating linguistically to one of the official languages—preserving a cultural mosaic but not a linguistic one—is very pervasive ideology within the society at large:  “the imaginary of Canada as an English-speaking white-settler nation persists, despite dramatic changes resulting from increased immigration from non-European countries over the past 50 years” (Ricento, 2013, p. 480).

Hopefully CBC bringing this issue to light will influence Telefilm to change their eligibility criteria.

References:

Guo, Y. (2013). Language Policies and Programs for Adult Immigrants in Canada: A Critical Analysis. Canadian Ethnic Studies, 45(1), 23–41. https://doi.org/10.1353/ces.2013.0022
Haque, E. (2012). Multiculturalism within a bilingual framework: Language, race, and belonging in Canada. University of Toronto Press.
Ricento, T. (2013). The consequences of official bilingualism on the status and perception of non-official languages in Canada. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 34(5), 475–489. https://doi.org/10.1080/01434632.2013.783034
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