On Saturday, December 1, hundreds of OSSTF/FEESO members were among the thousands of Franco-Ontarians who gathered in 39 cities and towns around the province in response to Premier Doug Ford’s decisions to abolish the Office of the French Language Services Commissioner and to express outrage over the cancellation of Ontario’s long awaited stand-alone French language University.
Many Franco-Ontarians feel their language and culture is under attack, and have warned Premier Ford that they will stand in solidarity and will fight for justice.
The Francophone Assembly of Ontario estimated more than 13,500 people attended the day of action, donning the signature green and white colours of the Ontario francophone flag. The rallies included hundreds of participants in Toronto and some 5,000 demonstrators in Ottawa.
Solidarity rallies were held in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and New Brunswick, where many are concerned about what these developments might portend for the future of francophone minorities in their communities. Those rallies took place in Regina, St. Boniface, and Moncton.
In response to the outcries of Franco Ontarians, Premier Ford has re-created the position of French-Language Services Commissioner as part of the provincial ombudsman’s office. Francophones fear, however, that there is no assurance that francophone rights will be respected, if the French Language Services Commissioner is operating under the purview of the Ontario Ombudsman.
The federal government, as well as Quebec Premier François Legault, have asked Ford to overturn his decision to slash francophone services. And Amanda Simard, the only francophone MPP among the 76 Progressive Conservatives elected in June, was quick to condemn her government’s actions, and has now broken ranks with the PC caucus to sit as an independent. Franco Ontarians, who feel the Premier has diminished their history and undermined their rights, applaud Mme Simard for her principled stance and her departure from Ford’s caucus.
There are currently 622,000 francophones living and working in the province of Ontario. Their presence and contributions have been felt for 400 years.
The Assemblée de la francophonie de l’Ontario (AFO), the umbrella organization and the political voice of Francophonie in Ontario, helped to mobilize the francophone community and its supporters in a way that has never before been seen in Ontario, and has christened this movement #LaRésistance.
The chant “We are! We will be!” was echoed across the province in towns and cities including Hawksbury, Windsor, Sault Ste. Marie, Thunder Bay and many more.
Parents, children, educators and members of the broader community joined their voices to express loud and clear that funding for French language education in Ontario is an investment in the future of our province, and that the opportunity for francophone students to learn in their own language is crucial. There are three English language Universities in Québec, but not one French language University in Ontario. Franco Ontarians have fought for their elementary and secondary schools, they have fought for their colleges, and they are prepared to fight again for a French language university.
AFO’s vision is a francophone community in Ontario that is united in its diversity, unified in its actions and collectively engaged in the future of Francophonie in Ontario. Franco Ontarians have vowed that history will repeat itself, and they will win this fight just as they have won the battles of the past.