Ottawa won't be bound by Nunavut's Inuit language law: Harper

A new law that requires Nunavut's public and private sectors to provide day-to-day services in the Inuit languages will not apply to federal government services, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said.

While campaigning in Iqaluit on Saturday, Harper said Ottawa will not be bound by Nunavut's Inuit Language Protection Act, which was signed into law on Thursday.

"The federal government is never bound by language policies of other levels of government," Harper said Saturday.

The Inuit Language Protection Act aims to protect Inuit languages — including Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun — by guaranteeing that both public and private-business services are provided in an Inuit language.

But Harper said the government's position on provincial — and now territorial — language policies has been stated before.

"We have this, obviously, this debate in Quebec. The Quebec government has a language policy that's very distinctive from the federal language policy," Harper said.

"Each order of government is responsible for the provision of services in its own offices, and it decides its own internal language policies."

At the same time, Harper said, Nunavut's act is newly passed and warrants further scrutiny.

"In fairness, you know, I've become aware pretty recently that it got passed," he said. "Our government will want to take a look at it."

Land-claims organization unimpressed

Harper's position doesn't sit well with the territorial government, or with land-claims organization Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.

"We have every right to have our own language in Nunavut, and anywhere we speak our language," NTI president Paul Kaludjak told CBC News.

"It shouldn't be limited to just Nunavut. It should be within all levels of government."

Stéphane Cloutier, Nunavut's director of official languages and services, said the territorial government believes the federal government should provide Inuit-language services in the territory.

"There is a specific provision in the federal Nunavut Act, which gives ... the legislative authority to our legislative assembly to make and pass legislations for the preservation, use and promotion of the Inuit language, as long as it does not diminish the rights, status, or privilege of English and French," Cloutier said.

Cloutier stressed that Nunavut's legislation is designed to give people — including unilingual Inuit-language speakers — equal access to services in Nunavut.

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17 November 2008

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