Archived - Notes for a conference marking the 100th anniversary of the Royal 22e Régiment
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Saint-Jean sur Richelieu, Quebec, October 18, 2013
Graham Fraser - Commissioner of Official Languages
Check against delivery
Beginning of dialog
Good morning, bonjour.
It's a tremendous honour to be here this morning at Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean to take part in this conference on the Royal 22e Régiment's 100th anniversary.
I would like to thank the Collège's Dean of Studies and Research, M. Marc Imbeault, for extending this kind invitation to share a few words on bilingualism and biculturalism in the Canadian forces.
First, it is always with the greatest of respect that I meet those men and women who have chosen to serve their country and those who dedicate themselves to educating members of the military. Your jobs are demanding, you have a great responsibility, and few people are capable of doing what you do. I admire the dedication that you show.
As Commissioner of Official Languages, I have frequently had to deal with language and cultural issues in the military and have visited units and bases across the country.
The Royal 22e Régiment has played an historic role, not only in military operations, but in serving as a unique model and hub of both bilingualism and biculturalism for the military, the public service and even the private sector.
The creation and ongoing success of this regiment contributed in large part to the acceptance of the place of French Canadians within the military. It is now the heart of the vibrant francophone community that currently exists within the Forces.
One could argue that the 22e was well ahead of its time. By the time the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism headed by André Laurendeau and Davidson Dunton got underway in 1963, the Regiment had been a focal point for 50 years of the debate on how to integrate francophone members of the Canadian Forces into what had always been a predominantly English-speaking institution.
In Book III of the Royal Commission's report on Bilingualism and Biculturalism published in 1969 under the title The Work World, Laurendeau, Dunton and their fellow commissioners were critical of the Canadian military organization in its failure to create an environment for Francophones to enter and pursue a military career in their first language—with the exception of the Royal 22e.
The 22e ensured soldiers could train and serve in French when there were very few Canadian institutions that allowed employees to work in French. Until World War I, in fact, Francophones in the forces had commanded and served exclusively in English. At the time, Canada was still considered very much a colony of Great Britain and the working language of the military reflected this reality. As such, unilingual Francophones in the military were at a considerable disadvantage. It's no wonder, then, that of the 225 graduates of the Royal Military College between its foundation in 1876 and 1900, only 10 were FrancophonesFootnote 1—all of whom were required to study in English.
Students of the First World War will recall that during the height of that conflict, Prime Minister Robert Borden promised to dispatch a total of 500,000 Canadian troops after initially agreeing to a modest 25,000 men at the outset. The conscription bill of 1917 was seen by the Conservative government of the day as the only practical way to achieve the goal.
At this juncture, it is worth re-examining the criticisms that existed in English Canada at the time toward French-speaking Quebecers for their supposed under-representation in the standing army. In light of the fact Francophones in the infantry were not initially permitted to train or serve in French, that only four of 126 generals serving Canada in the war were French Canadians, that the air force and navy were exclusively English-language institutions very closely modelled after their British equivalents, and that Ontario had recently banned the teaching of French in its school system, it is understandable that enthusiasm toward the war effort may have been tempered in parts of the country.
It took political pressure and a $50,000 gift from a Montreal businessman for the Prime Minister to relent and grant the establishment of French-speaking battalions within the Canadian Expeditionary Force. This marked an important turning point in English-French relations and a first step toward bilingualism and biculturalism in the Forces.
By 1916, French Canadians had raised a total of 15 infantry battalions. Of those, one particular battalion consisting of nearly 6,000 men engaged the Germans at the front: the 22e—the only French-speaking Canadian battalion to see action in World War I.
The 22e went on to fight in many of the major battles in Western Europe, including Saint-Eloi, Ypres, La Somme, Courcelette, Vimy, Lens, Passchendaele, Arras, Amiens, Chérisy and Cambrai.Footnote 2 It is said they “never retreated before the enemy” and that “its men stood their ground to be cut down rather than abandon a position.”Footnote 3
The 22e became a permanent force in 1920 and the following year King George V approved its designation as a Royal Regiment. A source of immense pride for French Canadians and respected across the country, the Regiment also served with distinction in World War II, Korea and most recently in Afghanistan, where it went into combat repeatedly during its several tours of duty.
Today, the Regiment's war dead are commemorated in a sculpture by André Gauthier in front of the Grande Allée Armoury in Quebec City—a short distance from the Regiment's ceremonial headquarters at the Citadel.
Geography is important here: although the Regiment's operational headquarters are located at Valcartier, the Citadel provides a place of residence for both the regimental commanding officer and the Governor General, in effect symbolizing the direct link and special relationship between the Royal 22e and the Crown.
Despite, or perhaps because of, its uniqueness as a French-speaking regiment and the linguistic challenges facing its personnel, the 22e has actually produced more generals than any other regiment in Canada. One of those, General Jean-Victor Allard, became the first Francophone to assume the title of Chief of the Defence Staff when he was promoted in 1966.
The General held strong views about the treatment of French Canadians in the military and wrote in his memoirs that for a francophone “to enlist at the age of 18 in the Navy or Air Force was almost equivalent to abandoning one's culture and language for good.”Footnote 4 He even submitted his resignation in 1965 when it looked as if plans to unify the army, navy and air force could eliminate the 22e as a French-speaking unit.
It's easy to understand the General's frustrations. We know that in 1964, two years prior to General Allard's promotion to chief of the defence staff, less than half of one percent of 24,497 military manuals in publication had a French version, and exactly zero percent of the 21,206 operational and maintenance manuals.Footnote 5
The fact that Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson's statements on bilingualism and biculturalism in the House of Commons in April 1966 were aimed exclusively at improving the public service—with no mention of the Canadian Forces—did little to reassure the General that the concerns of Francophones were registering.
That summer, when General Allard was chosen to implement National Defence Minister Paul Hellyer's plan for unification of the forces, Allard first made it a condition before accepting the promotion that a study be conducted to look into the conditions of Francophones in the military—an inquiry that showed French-speakers made up 16% of the Canadian Forces.
By early 1968, it was clear Allard's concerns had started to gain traction within the Forces and in Ottawa when the new Minister of National Defence Léo Cadieux announced the government's plan to establish French-language units in the Canadian Forces and for some Francophones to be trained in French—all to improve the retention rate of French-speaking Canadians in the Armed Forces.
That summer, the first all French-language units of the Canadian Forces were established inside Quebec, but not, I should add, without a considerable degree of consternation behind closed doors in Ottawa.
The idea of French-language units based in Quebec was disturbing to some of the Prime Minister's advisors. One of those, Marc Lalonde, wrote in 1967: “We should avoid very carefully the concentration of these French-speaking Forces inside Quebec… We have to think here of the problems such a concentration would cause in the event of a serious political uprising in Quebec. I don't want to sound unduly pessimistic but we should avoid providing the Government of Quebec with a ready-made Army at its disposal.”Footnote 6
In much the same vein, another Pearson aide Michael Pittfield wrote the PM in 1968 to say the French-language units were “one of the most potentially dangerous decisions the federal government could ever take,” and that “unilingual French-Canadian units concentrated in Quebec could – in the circumstances of our times, and with the trends that are likely to become even more powerful in the future – irrevocably lay the groundwork for an exceedingly dangerous situation.”Footnote 7
These concerns did nothing to alter the course of history. As a result of the changes that Allard started, bilingualism became the military's policy. This meant introducing language skill as part of the military personnel file of every member of the Canadian Forces, increasing the number of Francophones, promoting more Francophones, and setting requirements for language skill in senior officers. Not everyone was happy with this new arrangement, and yet, despite deep resentment in many quarters, it was done.
By 1987, the proportion of Francophones in the military had risen from 16% to 27%, and within a decade functional bilingualism was a requirement for promotion to the rank of lieutenant-colonel and above.
In 1995, however, the federal government's decision to close Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean made it that much harder to recruit, retain and provide French-language environments for Francophones—the future leaders of regiments such as the 22e.
The College is part of the French-speaking community's long struggle for recognition within the Canadian Forces, but it 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 the official language communities and the substantive equality of Canada's two official languages. The closure of CMR de Saint-Jean had harmful consequences for linguistic duality in Canada on the bilingualism of officer cadets.
CMR 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.
A notable lieutenant-general and graduate of this college, Roméo Dallaire, had this to say: “When they closed the military college in Saint-Jean, they destroyed the recruiting of the best potential candidates that are French Canadian. And that has not been replaced to the scale it was.”Footnote 8
In recent years, the efforts made to re-establish this institution seem to indicate that the government admits it made a mistake. I believe the government deserves credit for re-opening Collège militaire royal in 2007 and for restoring some of its academic capacity as a CÉGEP. I would argue, though, and you might agree, that not having degree-granting privileges here makes it harder for the military to live up to the language objectives it has set for itself.
Lieutenant-General Dallaire also cited the impact of the closure on English-speaking recruits, explaining that they have lost a valuable immersion in Quebec and French-language military culture—an experience that cannot be recreated at the Royal Military College in Kingston.
In some ways, 18 years later, National Defence has still not recovered. I feel it would be an important gesture for the federal government to restore the university status this institution enjoyed from its founding in 1952 until 1995 because bilingualism is an essential leadership skill in the Canadian Forces.
The CMR de 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. Furthermore, the ability to overcome linguistic obstacles is a key leadership competency in Canada.
The former commander of the Royal 22e Régiment, Major General Terry Liston, recently told me that when he authorized his staff to communicate by radio in French during exercises, the regiment's effectiveness increased considerably.
But this issue goes beyond being able to communicate more effectively in your first language. In the Canadian Forces, more than in any other organization, leaders must prove that they are worthy of their subordinates' respect. Or, as Lieutenant-General Dallaire put it during one of our conversations: “no longer will soldiers die in the language of the officers.”
But bilingualism is not the only uniquely Canadian feature of our military. Our English and French-language regiments are notable for their cultural difference as well—including styles of leadership.
General Dallaire once told me the French-Canadian style of leadership exists on the highest plane of intimacy requiring a very human presence, while the English-Canadian approach values the independence of the individual and the protection of that independence.
A 2005 study confirmed these cultural differences, with Quebec-based troops rating disaster relief and search and rescue in Canada as the first and second priorities for the army, while soldiers in the other three areas of the country rated combat operations to defend Canadian territory first overall and combat operations to defend Canadian citizens at home and abroad second.
Other organizations in Canadian life have not had to deal with the language and cultural implications of such a primal reality as the military faces. Nor have they been as successful. The maintenance of peace through a constant readiness to go to war clearly sets the military, and units such as the Royal 22e Régiment, apart from other federal institutions.Footnote 9
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 Canadians to be able to count on armed forces that are bilingual.
As we prepare to mark the 100th anniversary of the Van Doos next year, I will leave you with the words of historian Jack Granatstein, who observed in his book Canada's Army that bilingualism has worked and that “The resulting army was a better reflection of the country's duality than almost any federal institution—indeed, better than any Canadian institution of any kind.”
Thank you. I would be pleased to take any questions you may have.
- Footnote 1
B&B Report, Book III: The Work World, 1969, p. 295.
- Footnote 2
Jean Pariseau and Serge Bernier, French Canadians and Bilingualism in the Canadian Armed Forces, 1988, p. 89.
- Footnote 3
- Footnote 4
Graham Fraser, Sorry, I Don't Speak French, 2006, p. 214.
- Footnote 5
B&B Report, Book III: The Work World, 1969, p. 298.
- Footnote 6
Graham Fraser, Sorry, I Don't Speak French, 2006, p. 215.
- Footnote 7
- Footnote 8
Graham Fraser, Sorry, I Don't Speak French, 2006, p. 218.
- Footnote 9
B&B Report, Book III: The Work World, 1969, p. 293.