Mr. Graham Fraser (Commissioner of Official Languages, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages):
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I'd like to thank the Standing Committee on Official Languages for inviting me to discuss the official languages program in the Department of National Defence.
I would like to introduce the gentlemen accompanying me, Gérard Finn, Renald Dussault and Marcel Charlebois. They are here to answer detailed questions, because they have been working in this area for longer than I. In all likelihood, I will need their assistance to answer your questions.
The mission of National Defence and the Canadian Forces is to defend Canada and the interests and values of all Canadians, and to contribute to international peace and security.
My appearance is part of a lengthy dialogue with the Canadian Forces on the subject of linguistic duality. For almost a century now, the Canadian Forces have tried to come to terms with their responsibilities towards francophone members and their families, and since the Laurendeau-Dunton report almost four decades ago, this dialogue has intensified. All my predecessors have expressed their concern about the slow progress of the Canadian Forces and have reported on the significant problems that have emerged in terms of respecting the Official Languages Act. Now, in response to a report on a complaint by the late MP Benoît Sauvageau, we see the latest version of the Canadian Forces response and the latest admission of failure.
Given their specific mandate, the Canadian Forces have long been seen as different from other government institutions in terms of the application of the Official Languages Act. I agree that there are significant operational differences between the Canadian Forces and the federal public service. For example, while public servants choose where they work, military personnel may be sent on assignments anywhere in the country or in the world, based on their skills. After a few years, they are reassigned based on the Canadian Forces operational requirements. I am told that there are 10,000 transfers per year. A person's language is not a determining factor in the decision.
I should point out that the Official Languages Act does not confer special or preferred status on the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces. The act applies equally to all federal institutions.
Therefore, I feel that the Canadian Forces must reflect Canadian values, including linguistic duality. The forces must promote this duality and fully comply with the Official Languages Act. Beyond the legislative requirements, it's extremely important that the men and women who accept the inherent risks and choose to serve their country in the Canadian Forces are able to do so in an environment that respects their preferred official language.
Over the years, the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces have always demonstrated a willingness to comply with the Official Languages Act. However, I note that many of the procedures and policies they've developed have never produced the anticipated results. A new policy, known as the functional approach, is now being proposed, and we should evaluate it in terms of its application and its anticipated results. This new policy does not necessarily run contrary to the act, but the five-year timeline for assessing results is unacceptable.
l'd like to give you some brief background information to explain how I reached this conclusion.
In 1969, nearly 40 years ago, the Laurendeau-Dunton commission issued a series of recommendations to the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces concerning the equality of the two linguistic groups. In 1972, an initial 15-year plan was developed to increase bilingualism and biculturalism in the Canadian Forces. At the end of that period, the Canadian Forces recognized that the objectives had not been met.
In 1988, the department adopted a new policy, called the bilingual officer corps, to develop a pool of bilingual officers. The goal of this policy was to ensure that all senior officers, starting with the rank of colonel and navy captain, would be bilingual regardless of their duties or where they were posted. This policy was modified several times over the years and its scope became limited. It was recently renamed the universal approach. Now, 18 years later, there is an acknowledgement that this policy has failed, and the Canadian Forces is proposing yet another new approach.
All commissioners of official languages have expressed concerns regarding the application of the Official Languages Act by the Department of National Defence. My predecessors have issued a number of observations and recommendations in their studies and investigations, as well as in a report to the governor in council. Many of the previous commissioners have criticized the assignment process, which allows unilingual persons to hold bilingual positions, and have often condemned the fact that language policies fail to produce clear results.
In her 2001 investigation report, the commissioner issued recommendations concerning the Bilingual Officer Corps policy. She recommended a review of the language requirements for all officer positions to ensure that they are objectively necessary in each instance. She also recommended that the department identify the positions that required the immediate use of both official languages, and had to be staffed by officers who met these requirements at the time of their assignment or promotion.
More recently, an investigation was conducted in 2005 concerning the way in which the Canadian Forces as a whole dealt with bilingualism when recruiting, transferring military personnel, and determining appointments and promotions. In 2006, the commissioner conducted an audit of National Defence headquarters to determine whether the department and the Canadian Forces had succeeded in creating a work environment that is conducive to the use of French and English, and that enables employees to use the official language of their choice in their workplace.
The resulting recommendations call on the Canadian Forces to: set higher goals with regard to the proportion of military personnel who meet the language requirements of their bilingual positions or function; ensure that the performance management agreements of senior officers include objectives concerning language skills, and the creation and maintenance of an environment that is conducive to the use of both official languages; provide every opportunity and the necessary tools to military personnel who aspire to supervisory or other leadership positions to learn a second official language in order to maintain or improve their linguistic skills. Raise to the level of CBC the language skills and linguistic profile of bilingual supervisory positions in bilingual units so that the positions are filled only by personnel who meet these requirements at the time of transfer or assignment.
How have the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces acted on these recommendations? How will the new approach affect their implementation? That remains to be seen.
I would now like to talk about this new functional approach.
In accordance with the National Defence Act, this approach recognizes that, unlike the public service, the Canadian Forces manages its personnel by unit rather than by position. The information received indicates that the Canadian Forces feels this new model brings its training and employment policies more in line with the requirements of the Official Languages Act. This new approach marks a departure from the bilingual corps of officers policy adopted in 1988. Following the failure of the previous policy, we now have a new formula that once again offers no guarantees.
I can't help but wonder about the thinking behind this change in direction and the reasons the approach adopted in 1988 failed. Could one factor be the closure of the Saint-Jean military college? Do we recruit enough francophone officers? Under the system, what are the chances for francophone soldiers to work in their language? Does this mean that language training does not begin until a person is promoted to colonel? What will be the impact on francophone recruitment?
The Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean was established because National Defence wanted to increase its recruitment of francophone officers. It opened its doors in 1952, and over the years it grew from a college to a full university. As it was located in a French-speaking province, it offered the added benefits of enabling anglophone officers to participate in the best immersion program in North America.
In the 1990s, as part of the government's many initiatives to improve public finances, it closed two of the military colleges--Royal Roads and the Saint-Jean royal military college.
The Royal Military College in Kingston, already bilingual in theory, then became a centre for training fully bilingual student officers. Despite the efforts of officials in Kingston, there was a slight decrease in the number of francophone student officers by 1995. It would be interesting to know the current number in attendance.
Throughout the 1990s, National Defence made some progress in providing soldiers with professional training in French. This was much less true for officer training and development. In fact, as they move up through the ranks, officers have fewer opportunities to take their training in French.
The Canadian Forces agree that bilingualism is an integral part of leadership. However, under the new functional approach, only supervisors in a bilingual or unilingual French unit must be proficient in French, aside from certain lieutenant-generals and vice-admirals. The reality is that there are still too few bilingual military supervisors to create a work environment conducive to the effective use of both official languages in bilingual units.
Our investigations, studies and audits have shown that, over the course of some 20 years, the percentage of bilingual military positions filled by bilingual personnel has not increased by much and currently stands at only 47%. This is quite simply unacceptable.
In all of this, we must consider the perspective of francophones enlisting in the Canadian Forces. Even if the basic career training they receive is in French, new francophone recruits must learn English sooner or later. It is practically impossible to establish a challenging career in the Canadian Forces if you are a unilingual francophone. Francophones fall behind their unilingual anglophone colleagues, who get an immediate start on their career. One of the rare career opportunities for a unilingual francophone soldier, for example, is as an infantryman at Canadian Forces Base Valcartier.
In conclusion, the 1990s were particularly difficult for the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces. Budget reductions forced them to reduce their operational resources, and as in most other departments, their official languages program was inevitably affected. The 2003 action plan on official languages recognized that Canada's linguistic duality was affected during those difficult years. Corrective action measures have been identified.
Recently, however, the government substantially increased funding to National Defence and the Canadian Forces. We're starting a new chapter, following years of cutbacks. I'm hopeful that the overall official languages program, including language training for military personnel, will reap the benefits of this new funding.
Budgets are an important component, but we must remember that the situation will not change without leadership at the highest level. Over the years we've often seen procedures and policies revised, but no substantive change. After more than 25 years of various reforms, the Canadian Forces have examined the issue from every angle. It's more than time to establish clear official languages initiatives based on measurable objectives.
We cannot see another failure like the Canadian Forces' universal approach. It's unacceptable for the Department of National Defence to give itself five years to introduce the main elements of its new policy.
I'd like to point out that although this new policy takes into account some of the recommendations made by my predecessor, neither she nor I have endorsed this new functional approach. It will be analyzed when we begin the follow-up to the investigation on language at work in the department this year. It will also be reviewed during the follow-up to our audit at the National Defence Headquarters scheduled for next year.
As I look ahead in my mandate, I anticipate seeing concrete results from National Defence and the Canadian Forces.
Thank you very much. I shall be happy to answer any questions.
Ms. Raymonde Folco (Laval—Les Îles, Lib.):
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Welcome, Mr. Fraser.
I am very pleased to see you here today, in your role as Official Languages Commissioner. I am not saying that your predecessors did not take this task seriously, on the contrary, but I am personally very pleased to see you here, all the more so because, listening to your speech, I noted that you were drawing a very arresting picture of what I and many of my colleagues think of the new situation within the Canadian Forces.
I have always believed that the Canadian Forces were there to protect Canadians, be it here or elsewhere, in the short or long term. The Canadian Forces also project an image of Canada within Canada but also to others outside of Canada.
What I heard from the Minister responsible for Official Languages and the Minister of National Defence is that this image was increasingly becoming—it already is—one in which Canada is almost solely a unilingual anglophone country.
You said something extremely important. Sometimes, it is important to face reality, and you did so by recognizing that a unilingual francophone, an infantryman, has nowhere to go in the Canadian armed forces, because of the regulations, because of the way in which courses are organized. Mr. Commissioner, I am a former linguist. So you can understand that I have an opinion on this.
I want to make a comment and then ask a question. I make this comment to the Minister of National Defence. When language courses are organized, various criteria are taken into consideration. First, the objectives are considered and, ultimately, those objectives are assessed. However, I consider the objective of this new program of the Canadian Forces to be mediocre, if not worse.
Then, you need to ensure that those taking the course are motivated. Given the situation you've just described to us, I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that there is little or no motivation. I am talking about anglophones who have to learn French.
Then, we must consider the tools provided to both students and teachers. Once again, the situation you described with regard to the St. John Royal Military College, which was an excellent environment and provided immersion courses not only to the college itself but also to the town, demonstrates that the tools that the Canadian Forces has made available and continues to make available are steadily deteriorating. Of course, we know little about the evaluation.
As a former linguist, I fail to understand why they decided to do an evaluation five years later. Why not 15 years later while they're at it?
Finally, you used one word repeatedly in your speech, the word "unacceptable".
Those are the comments I wanted to make to you to tell you just how happy I am to hear your comments. Could you comment on what I've just said, but I'd also like you to comment on the following. If I've understood correctly, we have been told that from now on, Canadian Forces units would more or less be divided into linguistic units: anglophones on the one side; francophones on the other. This reminds me somewhat of what happened during the Second World War, when many countries, including the United States, had Black units and White units. And never the two shall meet. If we want the Canadian Forces to reflect our society, it is essential that people work together. Therefore, I am opposed to the idea of having separate linguistic units right from the start. I would like to hear your comments on this, please.
Mr. Yvon Godin:
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
First, I want to thank the commissioner for coming.
The first time you appeared, I was not here, but I am pleased to meet you today, you and the members of your team. You are servants of Parliament and the guardians of the Official Languages Act.
I liked the way you talked about the official languages. I think that you take this seriously. In your book Sorry, I Don't Speak French, you wrote about this. It is very telling. The words “I don't speak French” make me think of the Canadian Forces.
You said that you found the universal approach to be interesting. It is somewhat like a vision. Based on that vision, we are losing ground. At least, that is how I see it. The functional approach is about respecting the act. If people aren't satisfied, they change the act. It is as simple as that.
I am not an expert, but I think I know that the highest-ranking officers at National Defence have to be bilingual whereas the lower ranks don't have to be. It's almost like telling young people that they don't need to worry, that they can go to school, that they won't have to learn both official languages. The implication is that bilingualism is not important, that now that they have enrolled in the Canadian Forces, that no one has the time to do anything for them anymore so they'll find them a little spot here or there.
Mr. Commissioner, it's unfortunate that the former Liberal government closed the Saint-Jean military base. We must not forget this. Sometimes, people don't speak bluntly. We use words like “formerly” for example. The fact remains that the Liberals didn't help us.
Now that I have stated where things stand, how they stood in the past and the fact that we haven't made any progress, I want to talk about the 12 recommendations made by the Office of the Commissioner, which I have here. This week, the minister testified before the committee and she said, if I understand correctly, that 10 recommendations had been followed. So which two were not? Were they the most important ones?
Mr. Pierre Lemieux:
Me again? Great.
To continue with what I was saying before, if you have a unit that has a requirement for 15 majors and some of them must be bilingual, the military doesn't take the time and the effort to make sure that Pierre Lemieux, bilingual officer, is tagged against that specific bilingual position, because it doesn't really matter in that sense. What matters is that the unit has a bilingual officer and offers its services bilingually. That's what matters.
It's very important, because one of the essential parts of this new plan is the metrics. It's how you measure success. Under the old system, success was measured position by position. It was possible to actually have 10 bilingual positions, but to have the officers not perfectly aligned against those 10. You might say that was a failure, but actually it wasn't a failure. The 10 officers are there, they're just not slotted position against position. I wanted to point that out.
You made a comment about the postings as well, about tradesmen.
When I worked in the electronic and mechanical engineering sector, I was responsible for the technicians, tanks, firearms, etc.
You'd mentioned that it's possible for a soldier to be posted immediately into a position, and you said that's the way the forces work, but there's much more stability than that.
By exception, when there's an exceptional circumstance that presents itself, yes, it's necessary to move someone immediately, but there's career planning that goes on every year. There's a cycle; there's a rhythm to where soldiers are posted.
If someone wants to go to Quebec, a request must be made, the requirements of the Canadian Forces must be taken into account. This could happen if it is suitable for the individual and the Canadian Forces.
Mr. Jean-Claude D'Amours:
If you had seen the video, you would have seen how difficult it was for the minister to answer me in French. In reality, that would have been the case if he had to give me an order if I were a unilingual francophone. Nonetheless, I respect the fact that some people speak only English and others speak only French.
However, when you are a senior officer and you have to give orders, instructions, you cannot run the risk, as a Canadian, of not understanding what is happening. So, there cannot be francophone units, anglophone units and bilingual units.
You described the situation well earlier. In fact, you said that someone can be sent to another region because that's where the need is. Furthermore, this doesn't necessarily mean that that suits the particular needs of that individual.
In my opinion, it's not about saying that all student soldiers or soldiers should be bilingual. I am talking specifically about those giving instructions and orders to subordinates. The comments I made to the minister on Tuesday referred to health and safety.
Mr. Commissioner, in answer to a question by my colleague Pablo Rodriguez, you said earlier that there was a risk.
Do you recognize as I do that if we get the feeling... I understand that you said we will see what happens, but I think that there really is a risk. However, if there is one, this means that there's a problem from the start. In fact, if we determine that a risk exists, then there is a problem.
If we recognize this fact, why not take action? Why are we letting things go and saying that this is not necessary? Why are we running this risk at this time, when people may not be properly understood?
I come back to what I told the minister on Tuesday. I understand English, which is lucky. Although there is simultaneous interpretation, I don't need it. However, I know that soldiers don't have simultaneous interpreters following them around and whispering translations in their ear when someone says something.
Think of the close relationships that these people must maintain on a daily basis, and yet they are not being fully respected, as regards their mother tongue.