For a Francophone University in Ontario

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The following open letter, written by the leadership of the Institut d’histoire de l’Amérique française, was published in French by Le Devoir on Wednesday and yesterday. 

With two lines in its 15 November budget announcement, Doug Ford’s government abolished l’Université de l’Ontario français. Tied to the closure of the French Language Services Commission, this act removes the rights Franco-Ontarians had gained in July 2017 to receive postsecondary education exclusively in their language.

As far as we know, nowhere else has this type of decision been made. For the first time, a state has abolished a university due to budgetary constraints. This action calls into question important principles about the role of higher education and the place of community, which lay at the heart of our society.

Far more than an institution that prepares people for the job market, a university is a crucial institution for any society. Universities are sites of emancipation that instil a sense of responsibility. For minority communities, this is even more the case. By providing training and developing knowledge, the university empowers citizens to exercise their rights. Through higher education it is easier to make informed choices that better contribute to our individual and collective growth.

Further, in producing and sharing a culture and a language, a university assures a community its permanence over time and its influence in the world. The benefits of a university are not just limited to its students and faculty but rather permeate society as it seeks to respond to multiple needs and demands.

It is for these reasons that article 13. 2-c of the United Nations’s International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights stipulates: “Higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education.” Similarly, the 24th article of UNESCO’s Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights states that “all language communities have the right to decide to what extent their language is to be present, as a vehicular language and as an object of study, at all levels of education within their territory: preschool, primary, secondary, technical and vocational, university, and adult education.”

To abolish a university is to directly attack these principles. Taking this action disempowers citizens, preventing them from accessing higher education and hindering them from fully exercising their rights. It also weakens social bonds and the common good.

When it comes to a community like Franco-Ontarians, who have long struggled for recognition of their permanence, this act is even more harmful and intolerable. We, members of the Institut d’histoire de l’Amérique française, from Quebec, Franco-Ontario, and elsewhere, are particularly attuned to what is at stake here for francophone communities. Through our institutional mission, and through our engagement as citizens, we stand in solidarity with francophones throughout Canada.

Deeply attached to the principles of the university, and the necessity for community members to exercise their rights, we call on the Government of Ontario to completely reinstate the funding for l’Université de l’Ontario français in order for this institution to realize its fundamental mission, offering postsecondary services and benefiting members of its community.

We also affirm our complete solidarity with the Franco-Ontarian community whose rights to French-language services have been ignored. We specifically want to recognize the commitment young Franco-Ontarians have to a post-secondary education in French, an international language that ensures the circulation of knowledge, a language that belongs to them.

On behalf of the Institut d’histoire de l’Amérique française

Brigitte Caulier, President

Karine Hébert, Vice-President

Martin Pâquet, Former President

Louise Bienvenue, former director of the Revue d’histoire de l’Amérique française

At the time of publication, this letter has received 191 additional signatures. To add your name, click here and scroll to the bottom of the letter.

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