TORONTO (AP) — The bilingual English-French portion of Canada's population is on the decline, as the number of immigrants whose first language is neither English nor French grows, the country's statistics agency said.
Statistics Canada reported this week that English-French bilingualism declined over the past decade to 17.5 percent of Canada's population, down from 17.7 percent. It was the first drop in the five decades that the government has tracked the statistic.
English and French are Canada's official languages. In 1969, the Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau passed the Official Languages Act, making government services available in both languages across Canada.
The agency noted that outside of French-speaking Quebec, the proportion of primary and secondary school students enrolled in French courses has declined, while the number of immigrants whose mother tongue was neither English nor French has increased.
"Canada as a country welcomes 250,000 immigrants every year and it is impossible to maintain the same level of French-English bilingualism when you are welcoming that number of newcomers every year," Canada's commissioner of official languages Graham Fraser said Wednesday.
The English-French bilingualism rate was 12.2 percent in 1961 and peaked at 17.7 percent in 2001, according to Statistics Canada. However, in the last decade, the total population increased faster than the bilingual population for the first time since 1961. While the total number of bilingual Canadians increased from 5.2 million in 2001 to 5.8 million in 2011, their share as a percentage of the population declined slightly.
Quebec recorded the largest increase in the number of bilingual English-French speakers. In 2011, 42.6 percent of Quebec residents reported that they were fluent in English and in French. This compared with 40.8 percent in 2001 and 25.5 percent in 1961.
The report also noted that immigrants contributed to the growth of bilingualism in Quebec, unlike in the rest of Canada. While only 42 percent of native-born Quebec residents spoke English and French, 51 percent of immigrants did.
According to Statistic Canada's 2011 National Household Survey of almost 3 million people, Canada is home to 6.8 million foreign-born residents — or 20.6 percent of the population, compared with 19.8 percent in 2006.
The report said Asia, including the Middle East, was Canada's largest source of immigrants during the past five years, although the share of immigration from Africa, Caribbean, Central and South America also increased slightly.
Statistics Canada's "The Evolution of English-French Bilingualism in Canada from 1961 to 2011," report, released Tuesday, was gleaned from mandatory censuses from 1961 to 2011. The agency also noted that it used data from the 2011 National Household Survey on immigrant status, age, knowledge of official languages and mother tongue.