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Bilingualism is the ability to speak or write fluently in 2 languages. In Canada the term has taken on a more particular meaning: the ability to communicate (or the practice of communicating) in both of Canada's official languages, English and French. It has been formalized in LANGUAGE POLICY in an attempt by government to respond to a difficult social question: to what extent is it possible to make legal and practical accommodations that will allow the 2 official language communities to preserve their cultural distinctiveness and at the same time pursue common goals? "Institutional bilingualism" refers to the capacity of state institutions to operate in 2 languages and should not be confused with a requirement that everyone be bilingual.

Historically, institutional bilingualism has recognized the facts of Canada's settlement and development. Implicit in the founding of the Canadian federation was the idea that the English- and French-speaking communities should not only coexist but should complement each other. The BRITISH NORTH AMERICA ACT of 1867 established English and French as legislative and judicial languages in federal and Québec institutions. It also set out the right to denominational schooling, which at that time was closely associated with the anglophone (Protestant) and francophone (Roman Catholic) linguistic and cultural traditions.

The development of the bilingual and bicultural nature of the Canadian federation soon experienced setbacks, partly as a result of the uneven application of principles and partly from a simple lack of linguistic tolerance. Although the British North America Act and the Manitoba Act (1870) accorded the French language official status in Québec and Manitoba, no such recognition was granted to the substantial French-speaking populations of Ontario and New Brunswick. Furthermore, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a series of legislative enactments across Canada seriously restricted French-language education...
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