2nd Session, 41st Parliament,

Volume 149, Issue 37

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I rise today to commemorate International Mother Language Day. International Mother Language Day was established by the United Nations in 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.

Over 200 languages are spoken in Canada, many from coast to coast to coast. Aboriginal languages, as well as our two official languages of English and French, hold a special place in our heritage.

Sadly, of the 60 registered Aboriginal languages, only four are considered to be safe from extinction. British Columbia is home to more than half of Canada’s Aboriginal languages; however, only one in 20 Aboriginal people in my province is fluent in their language, and almost all of them are elderly people.

We are losing these languages. We are losing our heritage. Many of these languages date back thousands of years, but today we allow them to teeter on the verge of extinction. Honourable senators, if we allow even one of our Aboriginal languages to become extinct, we will have done a great disservice to the heritage of our country.

According to the United Nations:

Languages are the most powerful instruments of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage. All moves to promote the dissemination of mother tongues will serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education but also to develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue.

The importance of language diversity gives Canada a distinct advantage in the world. Whether working on diplomatic missions, trade relations or humanitarian aid, our knowledge of the languages of the world allows us to achieve success in these endeavours.

Honourable senators, growing up in Uganda, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to learn several languages: African, Indian and European. While I did not realize it at the time, learning those languages opened doors of opportunity for me that I would never have dreamt of when I was learning those languages.

This past summer, I travelled to Kolkata, India, with International Justice Mission Canada and spoke to young girls who had been victims of child trafficking. If it was not for the languages I learned as a child, I would not have been able to converse with these young girls and bring their tragic stories out into the open.

Honourable senators, in this increasingly competitive world, we must ensure that our children have all the tools they need to be successful in the future by promoting diverse language training. We must also ensure that we are protecting our heritage by giving Aboriginal languages the same status as our official languages of English and French. Allowing the original languages of this land to become extinct would be an irreversible tragedy. We would truly lose our heritage.


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