Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, seen in this Register file photo, apologized to Franco-Ontarians Feb. 22 for Regulation 17, introduced in 1912 to assimilate French youth in Ontario’s schools.

Ontario sorry for attempt to ‘crush’ French culture

  • February 24, 2016

TORONTO - The Anglo-Protestant attempt to crush French Catholic culture in Ontario got rare acknowledgement from Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne Feb. 22 as she stood in the legislature to apologize for Regulation 17.

“Regulation 17 showed disregard for Franco-Ontarian identity and equality and on behalf of the Government of Ontario I offer an apology,” said Wynne. What Wynne called “the shameful introduction of Regulation 17 in 1912” restricted Frenchlanguage education in Ontario to the first two years of schooling.

French was not to be used as a language of instruction or communication in schools. In an attempt to assimilate French-speaking minorities, school inspectors enforced the ban on French with the threat to defund schools and fire teachers.

“I think the premier and the government of Ontario wanted to take the safe route and apologize to the Franco-Ontarian community,” said Benoit Mercier, Association Franco-Ontarienne de Conseils Scolaires Catholiques executive director.

In force until 1927, Regulation 17 effectively bankrupted and depopulated French Catholic schools over the course of a generation.

The politics of Regulation 17 dominated Canada during the First World War. Quebec politician and journalist Henri Bourassa referred to the “Prussians of Ontario” and their determination to wipe French off the face of Canada. In reaction to Regulation 17 French Canadians refused to join the war effort, which led to the conscription crisis of 1917 and the Quebec Easter riots of 1918.

The issue also divided the Catholic Church. In 1913 the Oblates in Ottawa established Le Droit, Ontario’s only French-language daily newspaper, in opposition to Regulation 17. Meanwhile in Windsor, Bishop Michael Fallon led the Irish bishops of Ontario in supporting the program of assimilation, hoping the province would continue to fund English Catholic schools. Fallon’s support for Regulation 17 so angered French Catholic families in Windsor that they rioted in September 1917 when Fallon replaced their anti- Regulation 17 pastor with a pro- Regulation 17 priest.

French-language schools in Ontario were not officially recognized under the Education Act until 1968. Though the province stopped enforcing Regulation 17 in 1927, it stayed on the books until 1944. Official recognition of the right to French-language education did not come until 1984. While some may not want to tangle with Ontario’s bitter, sectarian religious history, the French Catholic schools in Ontario don’t see Regulation 17 as merely a language issue, said Mercier.

“Every time we meet with the government of Ontario with respect to educational matters we make sure we tell them, ‘Don’t forget the French Catholic community,’ ” Mercier told The Catholic Register.

“Of over 100,000 kids who are in a French-first-language school, over 73,000 of them attend a French Catholic school.”

The history of discrimination that hobbled French Catholic education continues today, said Mercier. Across the province the French Catholic schools are housed in old, cast off buildings no longer seen as good enough for English schools.

“We need infrastructure. We need school buildings that are welcoming, that are warm, that are modern,” said Mercier. “Our Anglophone colleagues are building super high schools with double gyms, artificial-turf track and field (facilities). We don’t have that. It’s very difficult to attract the (French education) rights holders into our system when the infrastructure is of lesser quality.”

Ontario has Canada’s largest French-speaking population outside of Quebec with 612,000 Francophones. Last year Franco- Ontarians celebrated 400 years of their history in Ontario.

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