Senior RCMP officers in bilingual positions can’t speak French, aren’t learning

Several senior officers at the headquarters of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) occupy bilingual positions even if they don’t speak French, Radio-Canada has learned. 

Among those who do not meet the requirements, none are actively taking language courses, according to RCMP spokesperson Charlotte Hibbard.

The RCMP — led by Commissioner Mike Duheme, a Quebecer whose first language is French — said its confidentiality policies prevent it from confirming the exact number of people who fail to meet the language requirements of their position.

But at least half a dozen senior RCMP officers in Ottawa do not appear to speak or understand French despite their official job description, according to sources.

This situation has drawn criticism of the RCMP, which provides front-line policing services in eight out of 10 provinces as well as federal policing services.

“I cannot believe it. An institution that is supposed to enforce the law and which violates the Official Languages ​​Act,” Bloc MP Mario Beaulieu said in French.

“It’s really, as far as I’m concerned, a lack of respect [toward] French speakers within the RCMP.”

Mark Power, a lawyer specializing in Canadian language law, said he believes the Treasury Board must intervene to resolve the situation.

“At first glance, this is a blatant violation of Canada’s Official Languages ​​Act, which has required since 1988 that executives supervise and manage in French and English in designated positions,” he said in French.

“Someone who is not able to function in French and who occupies a position that requires it must be reassigned.”

RCMP cadets march at a graduation ceremony at the RCMP Academy in 2017. (Valerie Zink/Reuters)

French lessons coming soon

Nadine Huggins, chief human resources officer at the RCMP, said the organization recognizes it faces challenges and shortcomings but added it has a plan to increase the level of bilingualism of its officers in the long term.

The RCMP is currently negotiating contracts to offer French courses to unilingual members of the general staff, Huggins said.

“To improve this situation in the future, we are in the process of launching a pilot project for internal language training in our organization, especially to be certain that senior managers and people who want to be senior managers can have a training department within the organization,” she said in French.

Rows of police cadets in uniform look to their left.
RCMP cadets photographed at the RCMP headquarters in Regina in 2005. Only French-speaking recruits currently receive second language courses during their training stay in Saskatchewan. (Troy Fleece/The Canadian Press)

As for young RCMP recruits, only French speakers currently receive second language courses during their training stay in Saskatchewan.

English-speaking recruits are not taking French classes at the moment but that is coming, Huggins added.

The RCMP respects the Official Languages ​​Act, she said.

“For employees who want to work in their first language, we always have a manager with whom they can work, so I think it is not entirely the truth [to say] that we are not succeeding in respecting the law currently,” Huggins said.

The processes for obtaining language courses or giving employees language exams are complicated and slow, she added.

The RCMP claims that despite the unilingualism of certain members of its staff in Ottawa, a majority of people there are bilingual.

More effort required, MP says

Conservative MP and official languages critic Joël Godin is asking the RCMP to quickly adopt a plan to respond to the Official Languages ​​Act, which has just been modernized and strengthened.

“If we wanted to stop the decline of French, we would have to use even more demanding tools,” he said in French.

“We must not [dismiss] the civil servants who were there before the law, but we must give ourselves the tools to be able to force — to strongly suggest — that these people learn French.”

A Member of Parliament stands in the House of Commons.
Conservative official languages critic Joël Godin says the RCMP must adapt to respond to a modernized and strengthened Official Languages Act. (The Canadian Press)

What is at stake, according to Godin, is bilingualism and equality between French and English within federal institutions.

“If we really intend to have a bilingual country, French and English, in 25 years, we must act,” Godin said.

Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc said during question period Tuesday he would meet with the RCMP commissioner on the issue.

The RCMP recently confirmed that all deputy and assistant commissioner positions in Ottawa are designated bilingual, as are positions held by civilians within senior staff.

To meet the requirement, people in those jobs should have obtained advanced results in speaking and reading comprehension as well as an intermediate result in writing.

Even if there is no formal obligation to upgrade, performance bonuses serve to encourage senior officers to improve their language skills.

“Senior RCMP employees at HQ who do not meet the requirements of their position are encouraged to undertake language training to the extent operational requirements permit,” an RCMP spokesperson said in French.

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