A French-language university cancelled by Ontario's government this month has kindled the passions of Canada's francophone minority, who are set to replay their historical rights struggle.
In addition to nixing the proposed university that was to open in Toronto in 2020, the province with the largest francophone minority in the country, outside of Quebec, also cut funding for francophone theater troupes.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford, the brother of Toronto's late crack-smoking mayor, responded to a barrage of criticism, saying the move "has nothing to do with personal [grudges or other] against any Franco-Ontarians." "They're great people," he told reporters. "But we also cancelled three other universities, English-speaking universities." Ford insisted that budget constraints were behind the decision which will save Ontario Can$80 million (US$60 million) over seven years. But it has rattled Ontario's 600,000 francophones, who represent about four percent of Ontario's population.
The move also drew criticism and calls to reverse course from the federal government and others including the government of Quebec, where francophones are the majority. Canada's nearly eight million francophones represent 20 percent of its population, but most are in Quebec. Francophone groups have dusted off their picket signs and plan to march for their rights in 40 locations across Ontario on Dec. 1. "We feel betrayed," said Carol Jolin of the lobby group Assemblée de la Francophonie de l'Ontario.
The late 1960s and the two decades that followed had marked a turning point for Canadian francophones in their fight to have their rights to an education and government services in French recognized. This included a Manitoba insurance broker's 1976 Supreme Court challenge of a parking ticket issued only in English as a means to restore French language rights in that province, and a 1990s battle against budget cuts to keep open Ontario's only francophone hospital, Montfort in Ottawa. French language rights were laid out in the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and other laws.