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Franco-Ontarians to Ford: Nous sommes, nous serons ! #RespectFranco

By: 
Chantal Sundaram

December 5, 2018

Nous sommes, nous serons: We are, we will be.

If you’ve learned French in school, that’s verb conjugation. If you’ve had to fight to learn and live in your own language, that’s resistance.

The Franco-Ontarian community came out in massive numbers on December 1 to tell Doug Ford that cuts to the Commissariat for French-language services and the cancellation of plans for a first and only French-language university in Ontario are unacceptable.

The largest protest was in Ottawa. On placards and onstage, they reminded Ford that the last time a Tory premier – Mike Harris – tried to cut a major service to the community – the French-language Montford hospital – he was soundly defeated.

That fight, like this one, was won by grassroots mobilization. But the lawyer who led the legal wing of that fight, Ronald Gaza, gave perhaps the most incendiary speech at the Ottawa rally. And he repeated it “in the language of Shakespeare” so Doug Ford would not miss it: “We fought for our elementary schools, and we won. We fought for our secondary schools, and we won. We will fight for our university, and we will win. And since we won for the Montford, we are no longer on our knees.”

Other speakers included young people and students struggling to get an education in French in Ontario. Youth made up much of the crowd, and well as the ranks of volunteers and organizers.

And there was diversity: the international French-speaking population, known as the “francophonie,” is growing most amongst those of African and Arab origin, and this is very much reflected in English Canada outside Quebec. Many immigrate to both Canada and Quebec with the expectation of living and working comfortably in French, and are let down by the false promise of access to French services in English Canada.

Thousands gathered in 30 rallies across Ontario, and more across Canada. There were signs and messages of solidarity from British Columbia and Saskatchewan, from Quebec and Acadie in the Maritimes.

In Ottawa there were many references to the “Battle of the hatpins” when Franco-Ontarian women had to defend themselves with what was at hand to oppose an Ontario law banning French-language education: “Sortez vos épingles à chapeaux!” (“Get out your hatpins”). This happened in Ottawa in 1916.

But a hundred years later, Franco-Ontarians are not alone in defending their rights. Both anglophones and francophiles indicated their solidarity online, through social media, and in the streets, across Ontario and Canada. Ford has yet another fight on his hands.

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