Notes for an address to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Troop 29 graduates of 2015

Regina, Saskatchewan, August 31, 2015
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages

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Beginning of dialog

Good evening everyone.

It is a pleasure to be here with you tonight to celebrate this defining moment in your lives. Thank you for inviting me.

In the great tradition of these graduation speeches, I am supposed to give you advice that you will remember for the rest of your lives . . . in less than 10 minutes. At the very least, I will try to share with you some valuable information that I have learned.

First of all, congratulations! You should all be proud of your success. I was told that you come from all over Canada—from Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, British Columbia and many places in between. Your collective knowledge and experience is as vast as this great country.

It may sound cliché, but a new life really is about to begin for you. You are on the brink of a rewarding and challenging career in protecting and serving Canadians throughout the country.

This adventure will change your life, and you will always remember the moment when it all started. One of my life-changing moments was the day I realized I wanted to learn French, which naturally brings me to the subject of . . . bilingualism.

The Official Languages Act was passed in 1969 and led to the creation of the position I now hold. As Commissioner of Official Languages, I have a duty to take all measures within my power to ensure that the Act is respected. Briefly stated, the Act ensures the equality of status of both official languages in terms of their use in Parliament and in federal institutions, where language obligations exist.

As officers of Canada’s national police force, you have a duty to preserve the peace, uphold the law and provide quality service to Canadians. In performing your duties, you have certain language obligations in some parts of the country. As iconic representatives of Canadian values, you must respect and embody these values—all the time, everywhere. Linguistic duality is one of those values.

You will be working for a national, federal, provincial and municipal policing body. You will be providing policing services to all Canadians, and contract policing services to 3 territories, all provinces except Ontario and Quebec, more than 150 municipalities and over 600 Aboriginal communities, as well as 3 international airports. You will get to know the various language rights, situations and obligations in these diverse locations. It will be your duty to respect and uphold these obligations just as you would for any other federal law.

Canada has 23 million Anglophones, 20 million of whom do not speak French, and 7 million Francophones, 4 million of whom do not speak English. We are a very asymmetrical country, and this is at the heart of the RCMP’s responsibility to ensure that all Canadians are served in the official language of their choice. You will not have the same role in Quebec as in the Northwest Territories, northern Alberta or British Columbia. Just like any other federal institution, the RCMP has an obligation to provide services to the public in both official languages and to take positive measures to ensure that official language communities thrive and grow. Although it is not your job to secure compliance with the Official Languages Act (that is my job), it is important that, as members of the RCMP, you adhere to the obligations set out in the Act.

You might be wondering what I mean by “positive measures.” As an organization, the RCMP has an obligation to enhance the vitality of the English and French linguistic minority communities in Canada, to support and assist in their development, and to foster the full recognition and use of both English and French in Canadian society. It therefore has a duty to ensure that measures are taken to fulfill this obligation. As members of the RCMP, you are expected to establish communication with official language communities wherever you are assigned. And even though you will be playing a very different role in western communities than in Ontario or Quebec, you still need to recognize the significance of the symbolism that the RCMP represents.

The ability of federal institutions to reflect contemporary Canadian values both at home and abroad depends in good part on the language skills of their leaders. Former commissioner Elliott told me that he believed in the importance of showing that the RCMP is a national institution. He always made a point of using both languages in his speeches and in meetings with RCMP members across Canada. I know Commissioner Paulson also speaks regularly in both official languages.

We are a complex country, and so we have a complex language system. Developing ties with the communities you serve also means understanding that you have very different language obligations depending on whether you are working in New Brunswick, in Saskatchewan or in a remote northern community.

Although the RCMP is not out patrolling the streets in Quebec and Ontario, it provides contract policing in New Brunswick and must therefore meet the language obligations imposed on the Government of New Brunswick by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The RCMP retains its status as a federal institution in all provinces in which it provides provincial police services, and so must comply with the Official Languages Act at all times.

The tragic events that have occurred over the past 15 months in New Brunswick, in Quebec and in our nation’s capital have highlighted how important your work is in times of crisis: stopping acts of terror, protecting the population and communicating with a community that feels like it is under siege. This includes using English and French to send clear messages efficiently and effectively to reach the entire community.

You are embarking upon a very demanding career. People from all walks of life will depend on your strength of character, your integrity and your sense of fairness. The career you have chosen thus involves many responsibilities, including respect for Canada’s linguistic duality and making it one of the values that your uniform represents.

To each and every one of you, the RCMP Troop 29 graduates of 2015, I offer my sincere congratulations. I wish you good luck and great success!

Thank you.

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