Canada’s official language commissioner is investigating complaints against Justin Trudeau as the prime minister continues to build a public relations crisis for himself and his government with his town hall town tour.
Spokesman Nelson Kalil confirmed Wednesday night that three people have filed formal complaints with the official languages commissioner against Trudeau after he refused to speak English at an event in Sherbrooke, Quebec. Several people asked him questions in English and Trudeau answered only in French, explaining “we are in Quebec.”
Outrage exploded on the social media. Jason Kenney, a prominent cabinet minister in the previous government of Prime Minister Stephen, was quick to express his disgust:
He accused Trudeau of subverting bilingualism in Canada in a tweet:
“Bizarre & offensive.
PM Trudeau answers English questioner in French. Exactly the sort of arrogance that undermines support for bilingualism.”
Manitoba Conservative Member of Parliament James Bezan, whose province has a sizeable francophone minority, told The Daily Caller on Thursday that Trudeau’s behavior was ill-advised. “His decision not to speak English in Quebec certainly illustrated his lack of political judgement. If someone asks you a question in one language, it is only common sense that you should respond accordingly,” he said.
Before receiving the complaints, Trudeau vigorously defended his decision to only use French at the meeting:
“I will always defend official bilingualism. I believe deeply in it, but I understand the importance of speaking French and defending the French language in Quebec,” he said in a statement.
Trudeau’s father, Pierre Trudeau, who was prime minister for 15 years often declared that he would not rest until Canada was a bilingual country from coast to coast. That goal remains a fantasy as bilingualism is on a reality with employees in the federal government.
Justin Trudeau claimed to be “surprised” by the existence of so many Anglophones in Quebec’s Eastern Township region – traditionally a very French part of Quebec.
After receiving the complaints, Trudeau suggested he could have accommodated the English-speakers in the audience.
Trudeau’s decision to speak only in French struck a nerve with members of the anglophone minority in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, which now makes up roughly six per cent of the population in the region east of Montreal.
Gerald Cutting, president of the English-language Townshippers’ Association, expressed disbelief over Trudeau’s intransigence.
“It was as if someone had just walked up to me and hit me in the stomach. I lost my breath,” said Cutting, who was at the event.
“During the whole time that the prime minister was in the meeting, he did not say one word of English, not even in his opening remarks.”
Cutting said even French-speaking people at the event did not understand Trudeau’s actions.
“People afterwards said, ‘Would he have ever thought of going into Manitoba and answering a French Manitoban who asked a question in French, and say, well, we’re in Manitoba and therefore we should speak in English?”’