Archived - Notes for an address to the staff of the Royal Military College Saint-Jean as part of Heritage Week
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Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, November 30, 2011
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
Ladies and gentlemen, professors, members of the Canadian Forces, good morning.
It is a great pleasure to be here with you today and to speak to you as part of your Heritage Week. I would like to thank Colonel Guy Maillot for his kind welcome as well as Captain Éric Le Marec.
It is always with the greatest of respect that I meet those men and women who have chosen to serve their country and dedicate themselves to educating members of the military. Your job is demanding, and few people are capable of doing what you do. I admire the dedication that you show. You have a great responsibility as personnel of the College.
The world in which we live is more and more complex, and understanding the nuances of national and international relations requires a larger set of different skills. As members of the military, you must have more than one string to your bow. You must simultaneously develop your intellectual abilities, your physical fitness and your military skills, and you must also be capable of communicating in English and French, our two official languages.
The Commandant, Colonel St-Pierre, explained to me that there were four pillars of the College – academic achievement, sport, bilingualism and leadership. I replied that all of these could be resumed in one – leadership.
It was General Roméo Dallaire—himself a graduate of this college—who made me understand that bilingualism is a key leadership competency in the Canadian Forces. “A Canadian officer must be able to communicate and not simply monologue,” he said. “That means communicating in the soldier’s language. Because the soldier will no longer die in the officers’ language.” Six years ago, General Dallaire also said to me “bilingualism has never been presented as a fundamental criterion for rising to the rank of officer.” I believe that this is no longer the case.
The Royal Military College Saint-Jean is part of the French-speaking community’s long struggle for recognition within the Canadian Forces. Next year will mark the 60th anniversary of the College, which was founded to meet the need to provide military training in French.
Unfortunately, the College’s role has suffered greatly since the cuts in 1995 and is only slowly recovering. Sometimes the government makes certain decisions that adversely affect the vitality of official language communities and the substantive equality of Canada’s two official languages. The closure of the Royal Military College Saint-Jean had harmful consequences for linguistic duality in Canada and on the bilingualism of officer cadets. The Royal Military College Saint-Jean provided an opportunity for young Francophones and numerous Anglophones to become bilingual officers, and it offered English speakers studying there a genuinely French-speaking environment. The students who went straight to Kingston did not have this opportunity.
In recent years, the efforts made to re-establish this institution seem to indicate that the government admits it made a mistake.
As you are preparing yourselves to take up the challenges of the future, General Walter J. Natynczyk has also sent a message that has the great merit of clarity: to rise to the senior ranks, you must speak both official languages. This is recognition of the fact that speaking both official languages is an essential leadership skill.
Curiosity has been the driving force in my career, and it is what led me to have a career in each of our official languages. I was born in Ottawa and moved to Toronto with my family as a teenager. I studied in English at the University of Toronto and, at that time, I was a unilingual Anglophone student. Then, in 1965, as part of my studies, I worked at an archaeological dig at Fort Lennox, on the Richelieu River, quite close to here. That summer was a revelation, a real shock to me. There I was, in my own country, yet it seemed like a foreign land. I realized how little I knew about my own country. I didn’t understand what the other students were saying. I wanted to participate in student life and learn. But I also wanted to have fun with my colleagues. So I rolled up my sleeves and, as well as learning French, developed a passion for Quebec that has never left me.
This experience helped me understand the difficulties of learning a second language and what it means to be an immigrant. Learning another language and learning about another culture does enable us to understand people better—but most important, it helps us in our everyday lives! When I was an English-speaking student in a French-speaking community, my immediate need was not to understand Quebec culture, though I certainly wanted to. It was just to know what people were saying, to understand their jokes and be part of the gang.
Before my appointment as Commissioner of Official Languages in 2006, I was a journalist. I spent a good part of my career—from 1968 to 1995 to be exact, apart from a few interludes when I was travelling, studying or writing books—writing about Quebec and its political scene for the rest of Canada. I worked for publications like The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, Maclean’s and The Gazette, in Toronto, Montréal, Québec City, Washington and Ottawa. Between 1995 and 2000, I did the opposite. As a guest columnist for Le Devoir, I wrote about what was going on in the rest of Canada. In a way, I have been a linguistic and cultural bridge between the English- and French-speaking communities throughout my career as a journalist.
I am often asked to explain what exactly I do as Commissioner of Official Languages. First, I protect the rights of Canadians in language matters and oversee the promotion of Canadian linguistic duality—as I am doing here today by speaking to you—all across the country, something I have been doing since my appointment in 2006.
I play six roles that contribute to the implementation of the Official Languages Act. I act as an ombudsman in the investigation of complaints and monitor the repercussions of government initiatives. I also ensure that federal institutions respect the Official Languages Act. I act as a liaison with linguistic minorities, audit public services and intervene before the courts. As part of my functions, I report to two parliamentary committees: one in the Senate and one in the House of Commons. I am an officer of Parliament, which means that I am a guardian of the values that transcend the partisan debate of the day—like the Auditor General, the Chief Electoral Officer, the Information Commissioner, the Privacy Commissioner, the Commissioner of Lobbying and the Integrity Commissioner.
I would even go so far as to say that, without the recognition of Canada’s two linguistic communities, the very idea of multiculturalism would be harder for people to accept. We accept and welcome two cultures, which are distinct but nonetheless connected. Two cultures, two languages—this coexistence forms one of the characteristic facets of Canadian identity.
Here, at the Royal Military College Saint-Jean, the officer cadets have the opportunity to develop their leadership skills in a bilingual environment. This is an unmatched opportunity that allows them to better understand what is happening in their country and thereby better represent it when they are overseas. The attitude that you adopt as trainers and representatives of the Royal Military College Saint-Jean towards official languages in your professional activities has significant repercussions on how the members of the Canadian Forces under your supervision respect and integrate official languages into their training and future careers.
The Royal Military College Saint-Jean is an educational institution like no other. I believe that, here, you understand the importance of linguistic duality, because you live it daily. The ability to overcome linguistic obstacles is a key leadership competency in Canada. It is essential if you wish to be able to understand what is happening from one end of the country to the other, to give advice to senior public servants and ministers, and command officers. You play a critically important role in the development of linguistic—and thus leadership—skills among officer cadets. And Canada needs such leaders.
In June 2010, the Office of the Commissioner published an auditFootnote 1 of the Department of National Defence (DND). This audit revealed that certain gaps remain and prevent DND from respecting all the requirements of the Official Languages Act, specifically regarding instruction in our language of choice. After the publication of a follow-up report to the Audit of the Language of Work at National Defence Headquarters in March 2011, we noted that, while there had been progress at the senior management level, barely over half of the military personnel holding supervisory positions and providing central and personnel services at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa met the requirements of their position.
As Canadians, we cannot be fair to everyone if we cannot manage to establish equity and respect between our two major language groups. This is why it is so important for Canada to be able to count on armed forces that are bilingual. You symbolize linguistic unity and you must uphold this unity when you carry out your duties.
Here, you have the chance to explore what is going on in your country, including what is happening in official language communities and the ethnic communities that have chosen to adopt English or French, or both. It is fascinating to see what drives people to learn another language, and incorporate it into their lives and identities. Be curious, and pass this curiosity along to your officer cadets. Our linguistic duality makes ours a country of openness, discovery and respect for others. By becoming a leader in the Canadian Forces, these are the values that you must project.
English and French are at the heart of our identity, and it is thanks to our two official languages that we are able to understand, accommodate and protect. I hope that you will respect and protect your official languages, whatever your own mother tongue is. You are officers of Canada; you are our ambassadors, both on Canadian soil and abroad. Be proud of the message that you convey when performing your military functions. You are all Canadians. Linguistic duality is part of you.
Thank you. If you have any questions, I would be happy to answer them.
- Footnote 1
Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, Linguistic Audit of the Individual Training and Education System of the Canadian Forces, Department of National Defence, June 2010.