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Title: Orest Kruhlak Interview
Narrator: Orest Kruhlak
Interviewers: Roger Daniels (primary); Tom Ikeda (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: August 3, 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-korest-01-0009

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OK: In 1977, we decided, the minister, who was John Munro, said, "We're going to establish a language program for the teaching of languages other than English and French in Canada." So I was directed to develop a program, develop a policy. So we set about doing it. As part of that process, you have to interact with the Privy Council Office, which is essentially the Prime Minister's department, and they run the policy process in the government of Canada. The man I had to deal with was a man named Bob Rabinovitch, which was the Deputy Secretary for Social Policy. So I went to meet with Bob and said, "Bob, the minister's asked us to establish," what we were calling a Heritage Language Program. He said, "It's not happening." I said, "Well, the minister has said it's going to happen." He said, "It's not happening. You will not get this through cabinet. You will not get any support in the Privy Council Office." I said, "Bob, I've got the list of organizations in the communities who support this. Right at the very top was the Canadian Jewish Congress. Are you gonna tell them that you're not gonna support this? 'Cause if you tell me you're not, I'm gonna tell 'em you don't." And I went through the other organizations, and finally he said, "I'll sign off on this, but it's not going anywhere." So we went to the cabinet committee, the chairman of that cabinet committee was a woman named Jeanne Sauve, who ultimately became the Governor General of Canada. We were sitting in the minister's office, Bernard Ostry, myself, John Munro and Jeanne Sauve, saying, "We're gonna take this to cabinet committee, and we need your support to get it through." She said, "It's not happening." And she said that from the perspective of a French Canadian, she voiced her opinion about this in terms of the official language programs, etcetera. Finally Bernard Ostry exploded. To this day, when I think back, that he ever survived in the bureaucracy was remarkable. And he just looked at her and he said, "Yesterday in Cabinet you people approved buying a whole pile of new jet fighters. Each one of those jet fighters is ten times as much money as we want for this program. Now are you telling me that those fighters are ten times more important than the teaching of languages?' And she looked at him and said, "Where is this guy coming from? Comparing apples to oranges is classic." And he just prevailed. I mean, he just went after her. He's a bureaucrat going after a cabinet minister. And our minister, John Munro, was just sitting back smiling, watching us. Well, we went to Cabinet Committee, got it through Cabinet Committee. Munro spoke to the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister --

RD: Who was?

OK: Trudeau, introduced it to the cabinet meeting, and said, "Approved." That basically was the way it went through Cabinet. He was not gonna tolerate any debate on the issue. And Bob Rabinovitch was sitting there and I was sitting in the cabinet meeting, and Rabinovitch looked at me and just shook his head saying, "I don't believe this has happened. I don't believe you got this thing through Cabinet." I mean, the opposition that we faced, and it was a piddling little program. I mean, we were gonna provide small grants to the communities, and it was not to be in the public educational system, it was the Saturday schools that, the church-run schools. But it was foot in the door, and that's what a lot of the opponents were opposed to, saying, "Well, if you get it here, that will diminish French." And I kept trying to say to people, "A diversity of language is a richness, and the more the better." I mean, why would you be opposed to somebody who can speak a language other than English? They're going to be the ones who support you. They will recognize the importance of your language if you will give them some support for their languages. But that was a very tough argument to make. A very tough argument to make. The ultimate irony again about that was in Alberta. Alberta established bilingual programs: English-Ukrainian, English-German, English-Cree, English-Mandarin. Then they became English-Ukrainian-French, English-German-French. They have these trilingual programs running in that province, and in Saskatchewan now, and in I think in Manitoba. And the very thing that we were hoping would happen has started to happen. I mean, people who were, could be persuaded to support this kind of bilingualism were far easier to support trilingual, or convinced to support trilingualism. And one of the things that always struck me about Canada and a lot of Canadians was how proud some people were to be fluently unilingual. I mean, I used to sit there and say, "Why do you think not knowing another language is really good?" I mean, why wouldn't you want to know another language? Why would you oppose anybody else knowing another language? And it carries on to discussions of diversity in general. How can you be opposed to the recognition of these other communities if you want your own community to be recognized? And the narrowness of views in a lot of the minority communities is extensive. I mean, "This is good for me, and that's where it stops. I don't want it to go anywhere."

I'll never forget when the whole Vietnamese boat people phenomenon arose, and government started to go to Hong Kong and elsewhere to start bringing Vietnamese into Canada and the United States and elsewhere. So I went to Winnipeg, where the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox church is, the consistory of the Ukrainian Orthodox church. And I was raised an Orthodox, I knew some of the people, the hierarchy that I'd come to know over the years after having been involved in multiculturalism and got back into knowing people in the community, I went there and I said, "The United church, the Anglican church, the Catholic church, the Presbyterian church, Methodists, they all started to organize bringing in sponsoring boat people into Canada." I said, "The one noticeable exception is the Ukrainian Orthodox church. We want you -- " and I was doing this on behalf of the Department of Immigration, had nothing to do with my responsibilities in multiculturalism. "But I want you to organize within the Orthodox community to bring in some boat people and sponsor them." They looked at me, the classic, "Where's this person coming from? What's he smoking? Why would we do that?" And trying to make them understand that their wanting, their acceptance was very important to them in terms of the large community, but that there was a concomitant response, concomitant responsibility on them accepting others. I mean, I might as well have turned and talked to the wall. At least the wall didn't talk back. I mean, there was just no understanding in the hierarchy of that church. And so I had to bypass them and go with people in the Ukrainian professional associations and get them to do something. But it always struck me as, you know, people wanting things for themselves but not wanting to extend that, not understanding that you can't get a benefit solely for yourself, that in these areas, if you want the country to be generous to you, you've got to be generous as well. And that has always been a real sore point with me, that a lot of these communities are very, very selfish. It's not just the French Canadians, it's not just the Anglo Saxons that are the selfish ones, it is a disease that pervades a lot of communities, and all of them have work to do in terms of developing a generosity. I mean, I listen to things to this day, hearing people from the Serbian community talk about Croats or Bosnians or Albanians. Give me a break. I mean, you want me to be accepting of you, but you don't want to be accepting of anybody else, and it doesn't work that way. It can't work that way.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.