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Proportion of French speakers declines nearly everywhere in Canada, including Quebec

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OTTAWA — The proportion of Canadians who predominantly speak French at home declined in all provinces and territories except Yukon between 2016 and 2021, according to the latest census release.

Statistics Canada says over three in four Canadians report English as their first official language, a proportion that’s increased over the five-year period.

That’s while the proportion of people who report French as their first official language declined.

Jean-Pierre Corbeil, an associate professor of sociology at Laval University, said immigration plays a key role in the trends we see with languages in Canada.

“We know that the composition of the population over time has an impact on … the numbers of people speak French or English or, if you will, a non-official language,” Corbeil said.

The sociologist said the rise in temporary immigration might be having an impact on French in Quebec, given that temporary immigrants are less likely to speak the language.

A recent study by the Institut du Québec found that while non-permanent residents represented nine per cent of international immigration to the province from 2012 to 2016, that number had climbed to 64 per cent by 2019.

In Quebec, the number of Canadians who reported English as their first official language topped one million, while one in 10 Quebecers report speaking predominantly English at home.

As the country becomes more linguistically diverse, the percentage of Canadians who reported English or French as their mother tongue has also declined.

The agency defines mother tongue as a citizen’s first language learned at home in childhood and still understood by the individual.

Corbeil said that while some people put a lot of emphasis on French losing ground in Quebec, that phenomenon has already played for the English language in regions like Toronto, where nearly half of residents’ mother tongues are not English.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada announced in 2019 its plan to boost francophone immigration to areas in Canada outside of Quebec. It’s hoping to increase the share of francophone immigrants to 4.4 per cent by 2023.

In 2021, 3.6 per cent of arrivals outside of Quebec were French-speaking immigrants.

It would be more effective to direct French-speaking immigrants to Quebec, given the limited influence of the language outside of the province, said Charles Castonguay, a retired mathematics professor from the University of Ottawa who specializes in the language landscape of Canada.

“That will do much more to stabilize the weight of French in Canada than scattering these immigrants,” he said.

English-French bilingualism remained unchanged over the five-year period, with 18 per cent of Canadians reporting they can conduct a conversation in both languages.

The census release comes after Quebec introduced a new language law this year that restricts access to government services in English. In June, Quebec Premier François Legault drew criticism for sounding the alarm over a decline in the number of people who speak French at home.

Legault declared that “nobody could deny” French is in decline, saying fewer Quebecers were speaking the language at home as well as at work.

Corbeil said the impact of Bill 96 would not be reflected in the data given it was passed this year.

“It’s really the immigration policy and immigration measures (where) I think the focus should be put, because it’s difficult actually to see … what are the measures that will have an impact on the language dynamics,” Corbeil said.

Statistics Canada will publish a census report on workplaces later this year that will shed light on languages spoken in work environments.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 17, 2022.

Nojoud Al Mallees, The Canadian Press

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COVID-19

HIV spike among B.C. drug users associated with COVID-19 lockdown, research says

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By Brieanna Charlebois in Vancouver

A new study says reduced access to HIV services during early COVID-19 lockdowns in British Columbia was associated with a “sharp increase” in HIV transmission among some drug users.

The study by University of British Columbia researchers says that while reduced social interaction during the March-May 2020 lockdown worked to reduce HIV transmission, that may not have “outweighed” the increase caused by reduced access to services.

The study, published in Lancet Regional Health, found that fewer people started HIV antiretroviral therapy or undertook viral load testing under lockdown, while visits to overdose prevention services and safe consumption sites also decreased.

The overall number of new HIV diagnoses in B.C. continues a decades-long decline.

But Dr. Jeffrey Joy, lead author of the report published on Friday, said he found a “surprising” spike in transmission among some drug users during lockdown.

Joy said transmission rates for such people had previously been fairly stable for about a decade.

“That’s because there’s been really good penetration of treatment and prevention services into those populations,” he said in an interview.

B.C. was a global leader in epidemic monitoring, which means the results are likely applicable elsewhere, Joy said.

“We are uniquely positioned to find these things,” he said. “The reason that I thought it was important to do this study and get it out there is (because) it’s probably happening everywhere, but other places don’t monitor their HIV epidemic in the same way that we do.”

Rachel Miller, a co-author of the report, said health authorities need to consider innovative solutions so the measures “put in place to address one health crisis don’t inadvertently exacerbate another.”

“These services are the front-line defence in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Many of them faced disruptions, closures, capacity limits and other challenges,” Miller said in a news release.

“Maintaining access and engagement with HIV services is absolutely essential to preventing regression in epidemic control and unnecessary harm.”

The Health Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Researchers said the spike among “select groups” could be attributed to a combination of factors, including housing instability and diminished trust, increasing barriers for many people who normally receive HIV services.

British Columbia is set to become the first province in Canada to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of hard drugs in January, after receiving a temporary federal exemption in May.

Joy said this decision, alongside measures like safe supply and safe needle exchanges, will make a difference preventing similar issues in the future.

“The take-home message here is, in times of crisis and public health emergency or other crises, we need to support those really vulnerable populations more, not less,” he said.

“Minimally, we need to give them continuity and the access to their services that they depend on. Otherwise, it just leads to problems that can have long, long-term consequences.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 24, 2022.

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Tragedies unite Humboldt Broncos mom and James Smith Cree Nation artist

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By Mickey Djuric in Regina

Celeste Leray-Leicht received many condolence gifts after the Humboldt Broncos bus crash that claimed the life of her son, but it was a beaded green and yellow ribbon with a white heart that stood out.

Leray-Leicht wore it for years after her son Jacob Leicht died. It now lives on her vehicle’s visor, next to a photo of her children when they were little, alongside a poppy.

She always felt a connection to the beaded ribbon because of the heart.

“My son Jacob, he was a Valentine baby, so I’m drawn to hearts,” Leray-Leicht said from her home in Humboldt, Sask., east of Saskatoon.

On April 6, 2018, near Tisdale, Sask., 16 people were killed and 13 were injured when an inexperienced truck driver ran a stop sign, crashing into a bus that was taking the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team to a playoff game.

Leray-Leicht’s son played with the Broncos and was 19 when he died in the crash.

She never knew who gifted her the beaded pin, but she found out when she headed out to James Smith Cree Nation, northeast of Saskatoon, to drop off food and other donations earlier this month.

Bernard Constant Community School on the reserve has become a gathering hub after a stabbing rampage on Sept. 4 that killed 10 people, nine of whom were James Smith Cree Nation members. Eighteen others were injured. Both suspects have died.

The school is where funerals and wakes were held, where volunteers continue to cook throughout the day to keep members fed as they recover. It’s also where people come to pray.

On Sept. 11, it became the place where two women, dealing with devastating loss, came face to face for the first time.

While in the school’s gym, Leray-Leicht met Lissa Bear, who is a member of James Smith Cree Nation, and has been grieving alongside her community.

She’s also the Indigenous artist who anonymously gifted her the beaded ribbon that had always reminded Leray-Leicht of Jacob.

To Leray-Leicht’s surprise, Bear had approached her saying she had sent her the pin years ago.

“And I said ‘I just looked at that pin half an hour ago,” Leray-Leicht said. “We were kindred spirits. We instantly hit it off.”

Leray-Leicht said it was remarkable to meet Bear, despite the tragedies that unite them.

“I think God is in the details and I don’t really believe in coincidences too much. I think we’ll become good friends,” said Leray-Leicht. “It was just so special to me.”

Bear declined to comment, but gave consent to Leray-Leicht to share the story.

Humboldt and James Smith Cree Nation are 125 kilometres apart, but are connected through their grief.

Since the mass stabbing, families from Humboldt have silently attended funerals, donated food and offered support to people in the Indigenous community.

“As adults and leaders in the community, it’s our responsibility to try and find as many supports as we can for our youth and for our adults without reliving the trauma over and over again,” Leray-Leicht said.

Students in Humboldt wrote messages of hope on hearts for James Smith Cree Nation, something a nearby community did for them in 2018 after the bus crash.

At a vigil in Humboldt on Sept. 14, the hearts were placed in baskets alongside chocolate Hershey hugs, and were given to James Smith Cree Nation Chief Wally Burns. They asked him to pass them along to the youth of his community.

“When asked ‘what do you need?’ and they say prayers, I can relate,” said Leray-Leicht, who helped plan the vigil. “That’s all I remember thinking — ‘That’s what we needed, too.’ Prayers to lift us up to survive this devastating loss.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 24, 2022.

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