ARCHIVED - Ombudsman Advises Chief of the Defence Staff of Intention to Refer Official Languages Issue to Commissioner

This page has been archived on the Web

Information identified as archived is provided for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It is not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards and has not been altered or updated since it was archived. Please contact us to request a format other than those available.

August 6, 2008

General W.J. Natynczyk, C.M.M., M.S.C., C.D.
Chief of the Defence Staff
National Defence Headquarters
MGen George R. Pearkes Building
13th Floor, South Tower
101 Colonel By Drive
Ottawa, ON K1A 0K2

Official Languages Concerns - CFB Borden

Dear General Natynczyk,

As you may know the former Ombudsman wrote to your predecessor in January 2007 asking the Canadian Forces to take immediate action to address a number of serious concerns that had been brought to his attention by Francophone students at CFB Borden during an outreach visit to the base. In particular, the Ombudsman raised the following concerns:

  • What has been, or will be, done to inform students, in particular at CFB Borden, of their linguistic rights; and how will the Canadian Forces ensure that those rights are fully respected?
  • What steps will be taken to: (i) ensure that students understand how they should proceed when they face language problems; and (ii) ensure that they can raise such issues in a climate of openness and without fear of reprisal?
  • What steps will be taken, and when, to improve the capacity of the staff to work in both official languages, especially as recruiting increases and as more and more students are sent to CFB Borden?
  • What steps will be taken to allow students awaiting training at CFB Borden to improve their ability to communicate in the other official language?
  • In the short-term, what steps have been, or will be, taken to assist students who are currently facing language-related difficulties at CFB Borden?
  • What steps will be taken to monitor the situation and to assess progress?

In April 2007, our office was informed that these concerns had been addressed. However, when Ombudsman investigators returned to CFB Borden in June 2007, they found that no tangible action had, in fact, been taken to address the problems.

In July 2007, the former Minister of National Defence intervened at the request of our office, directing that immediate action be taken by the Canadian Forces to ensure that the problems at CFB Borden were addressed on a priority basis. Specifically, we asked that:

  • Senior leadership make a formal written commitment regarding short-term actions and initiatives to be undertaken at CFB Borden;
  • A senior military leader travel to CFB Borden to communicate the official languages vision of the Canadian Forces, and provide clear direction to Base leadership and Francophone students;
  • An effective assistance mechanism be established immediately to provide an avenue for students to get help in resolving linguistic problems; and
  • The Canadian Forces provide a progress report to our office by December 1, 2007.

In November 2007, the former Ombudsman published the correspondence regarding the problems raised by Francophone students at CFB Borden. Following this, Canadian Forces personnel from CFB Gagetown and St-Jean Garrison contacted our office with similar concerns about the lack of services in both official languages. Due to the seriousness of the matters raised, Ombudsman investigators were dispatched to CFB Gagetown and St-Jean Garrison on December 3-7, 2007, to conduct an assessment. In a letter dated January 30, 2008, we communicated a number of concerns to the previous Chief of the Defence Staff. A response was received from his office on March 7, 2008, and from the Minister of National Defence, the Honourable Peter MacKay, on March 14, 2008.

In terms of the problems faced by Francophone students at CFB Borden, the Chief of Military Personnel advised our office on December 5, 2007, that steps had been taken and that immediate changes were underway to address the fundamental unfairness at that Base.

In order to verify and measure the effectiveness of these changes, Ombudsman investigators visited the Canadian Defence Academy at CFB Kingston on January 25, 2008, to interview the Commander and various officials who are responsible for the Canadian Forces Support Training Group at CFB Borden. We also sent investigators to CFB Borden from January 28 to February 1, 2008, where they met with approximately 200 students and numerous officials responsible for providing training and services to students. Investigators also collected information via confidential surveys and discussions in an open forum.

Overall Findings

In general, our investigators observed improvement in several areas at CFB Borden and we are pleased to see that steps have been taken to address some of our initial concerns. Disappointingly, the investigative team also found that many of the most serious concerns raised by our office over the past year have yet to be addressed.

Awareness / Complaint Mechanism

Awareness of Rights and Information: CFB Borden has a website – with a dedicated section on official languages issues – on the main Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces internal website. Students are also provided with written information upon their arrival, as well as an introduction briefing at the beginning of their course, which covers basic official languages rights. In addition, the Official Languages Champion has been proactive in his efforts to promote awareness regarding language rights.

Most likely as a result of these initiatives, our surveys with students indicated that their awareness of language rights had increased significantly. However, approximately thirty percent of students still reported being unaware of their linguistic rights. Given both the proportion of students unaware of their rights and the transient nature of the student population at CFB Borden, these initiatives need to be sustained over the long term.

As mentioned in our January 2008 letter to the former Chief of the Defence Staff, fifty percent (85/170) of respondents surveyed at CFB Gagetown and twenty-eight percent (104/379) of respondents surveyed at St-Jean Garrison also reported being unaware of their linguistic rights. In addition to the actions detailed in your predecessor’s letter to us of March 7, 2008, CFB Gagetown sent us confirmation that they have taken steps to increase awareness via the drafting of bilingual directives, which include mandatory official language briefings for each course and a linguistic  “contract” to be signed by personnel and students. To date, St-Jean Garrison has provided no additional information.

I believe that the three establishments would benefit tremendously from sharing their lessons learned in order to increase the overall awareness of linguistic rights amongst students.

Effective Complaint Mechanism: CFB Borden has created an online “Official Languages Observation Form,” which is meant to ensure that individuals can raise language-related issues in a climate of openness and without fear of reprisal. The form is also available via the training establishments and the service providers. However, according to the surveys completed at CFB Borden, a considerable number of students indicated that they were unaware of where and how to obtain assistance. This is unfortunate.

In order for a complaint mechanism to be effective, the process must be clear to anyone wanting to use it. A Canadian Forces member wanting to make a complaint will not be looking for a document entitled  “observation form”. Although we have been able to determine that the Official Languages Champion receives all observations made in this manner, it is not indicated anywhere who is responsible for receiving the form, what that person’s obligations and authorities are, and how the information will be treated. The person submitting an  “observation”  is required to submit their name, unit, rank and service number. Clearly, this may lead to a fear of reprisal and potentially dissuade people from making an “observation”. It is also very restrictive as the “observation” cannot be made about a person, only a specific service, nor can it be a complaint.

Our investigators noted that only seven “observations” were received between August 2007 and January 2008. Although these seem to have been dealt with appropriately and in a timely manner, the system currently in place falls far short of an effective complaint mechanism with a clear process and clear responsibilities. Improvements are required.

CFB Gagetown and St-Jean Garrison do not have a complaint mechanism. As such, I believe that the three establishments, as well as other Canadian Forces establishments, should collaborate in an effort to put in place an effective complaints mechanism in order to treat those complaints not handled by the chain of command to the satisfaction of the member.

Senior Leadership Commitment to Issue: As was requested by our office, senior officials, including the Chief of Military Personnel and the Commander of the Canadian Defence Academy, have visited CFB Borden over the past year. As a result of our earlier observations, there is now an Official Languages Strategic Plan, and an Official Languages – Commander’s Policy at CFB Borden. At the same time, an Official Languages Champion was appointed to support the efforts of the Base Coordinator of Official Languages and the Unit Coordinators of Official Languages. I find all of these to be positive improvements.

In order to foster a culture of fairness and inclusiveness, I encourage a similar commitment to official languages on the part of senior leadership responsible for CFB Gagetown, St-Jean Garrison, and other Canadian Forces establishments across the country.


Our investigators found that many of the services at CFB Borden, including administrative, health and emergency services, are not being provided to students in the official language of their choice. Although there are plans to address these issues in the long-term, immediate action is required until the permanent solutions can take effect.

Francophone students and staff raised health and safety concerns not previously reported to investigators. Specifically, the lack of services in both official languages at the Pharmacy and the Military Police section were of great concern to them. To guarantee the safety of all individuals, it is essential that a bilingual pharmacist and a bilingual medical officer be available to serve the Canadian Forces members at CFB Borden. Furthermore, the Military Police dispatch center (911) must be able to provide constant services to the public in both official languages.

In addition to the health and safety concerns noted above, several key services (specifically from the administrative branch) were found to be unavailable (or insufficiently available) in both official languages to students, staff and military families. Our investigators were advised that an establishment review previously scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2008 at CFB Borden was postponed to the fall of 2008. This is disappointing. CFB Borden is strongly encouraged to follow through with their establishment review in order to identify and fill the necessary bilingual positions at the earliest possible opportunity.

On May 5, 2008, the Director Human Resource Information Management provided our office with the posting information that was available as of that date (only half of the postings had been entered into the system at that time). However, should the trend shown by that information continue, there will only be a slight increase in the number of bilingual individuals at CFB Borden health services for 2008-2009. This is not sufficient to address the current problems.

In our January 2008 letter, we also raised concerns related to the health and safety of students at CFB Gagetown and St-Jean Garrison. Specifically, Canadian Forces members informed us about not being able to communicate food allergies in their first official language, or to fully understand fire drills and the commands provided on the firing ranges. Our office was advised that steps have been taken to address these shortcomings; however, we did not have the opportunity to verify this information. Continued vigilance is required to guarantee the safety of all individuals working and training on defence establishments.

Access to Language Training

In his January 2007 letter, the former Ombudsman requested information on the steps that would be taken to allow students awaiting training at CFB Borden to improve their ability to communicate in the other official language, as well as the steps that would be taken to assist students who are facing language-related difficulties.

The CFB Borden Strategic Plan provides for second-language training opportunities. However, our investigators found that students awaiting training at CFB Borden are not given the opportunity to improve their second language skills. Indeed, less than 20 Francophone (and no Anglophone) students were provided second-language training during the last two fiscal years.

As for immediate steps to assist students, some of the proposed solutions included tutoring and computer-assisted learning. These appeared to be reasonable short-term solutions; however, our investigators found that tutoring was not actually being made available, and that the English second-language training portion of the computer system was not functioning.

Overall, we found that there has been no progress made in providing second-language training and assistance to students, despite the identification of these solutions by the Canadian Forces.

Personnel awaiting training at CFB Gagetown and St-Jean Garrison also informed our investigators that there were few opportunities for second-language training; however, we did not have the opportunity to verify this information. 


The former Ombudsman requested information, in his January 2007 letter, on what steps would be taken (and when) to improve the capacity of staff to work in both official languages, as well as to ensure that courses are available to all students in the official language of their choice.

Improving this capacity is part of the long-term strategic plan of the Canadian Forces. However, our concern remains with the issues of unfairness in the short-term that are not being addressed. In his December 2007 letter, the Chief of Military Personnel indicated that the implementation of a variety of strategies (e.g., contracting out courses, contracting in instructors, and partnering with civilian education and training providers) were producing tangible results. Unfortunately, our follow-up did not find any evidence of this.

Training Availability: Francophone students originally informed our office that they were waiting significantly longer to get into occupational trades training than their Anglophone counterparts. They also observed that some career courses were offered only in English. Our investigation confirmed these allegations. Based on information provided by the Canadian Defence Academy, our investigators found that well over sixty percent of scheduled courses at CFB Borden on the 2008-2009 training calendar (and almost half of entry-level courses) are available in English only, and thus not available for unilingual or insufficiently bilingual Francophones. Additionally, we are aware of only two courses for Francophone students that have been contracted out.

The situation is equally unacceptable at CFB Gagetown, where almost half of the courses are available in English only. In contrast, all courses at St-Jean Garrison are available in both languages. This clearly demonstrates that it is possible for students to have fair access to the required courses in the official language of their choice.

Instructor Cadre: Our analysis of the information on postings to CFB Borden, as it relates to the instructor cadre, indicates that there will not be any significant bilingual capability increases at the various schools after the 2008 active posting season. This contradicts the Chief of Military Personnel’s direction to increase the number of bilingual military members posted to key instructional and support positions at CFB Borden.

Translation of Material: There were general observations made about the quality and quantity of translated material. Francophone students reported that translated material is not always available, and that many of the translations that are available are of poor quality. Staff also advised our investigators that much of the training material is not current and will not be translated into French until it is updated in English. This is simply unacceptable. If the course material is satisfactory for use in English-language training, it should be translated so that courses can be given in French.

Overall Assessment of Training: Overall, our investigators were unable to verify any substantial improvements identified in the December 2007 letter from the Chief of Military Personnel. Specifically, they found that Francophone students at CFB Borden are being denied training opportunities available to Anglophone students. It is clear to us that Francophone students do not have fair access to training opportunities as a result of insufficient numbers of bilingual instructors, a lack of quality training material in French, and/or the availability of training. Consequently, their career progression is delayed. This is fundamentally unfair. All students – indeed all Canadian Forces members – must have the same opportunity to progress.


In summary, our investigators observed that the level of awareness of linguistic rights at CFB Borden has increased significantly since June 2007. In addition, those working at CFB Borden have advised us that they will continue to focus on the importance of bilingualism. As well, the investigative team noted commendable efforts on the part of the CFB Borden Official Languages Champion and the recent initiatives at CFB Gagetown.

However, we are very concerned that the majority of our observations and recommendations have yet to be addressed by the chain of command. The overriding goal when we first brought this issue to the attention of your predecessor was that short-term solutions be found to address the immediate and serious concerns that were raised by Francophone students at CFB Borden, until such time as long-term solutions (as outlined in the Official Language Transformation Model) could be implemented. Some of these issues have been addressed; unfortunately, most have not. It is essential that these outstanding issues be addressed as soon as possible in order to resolve the fundamental unfairness faced by Francophone students at CFB Borden.

From the beginning of this investigation, we have kept the Commissioner of Official Languages informed of our observations and recommendations as he has a legislated mandate to ensure compliance with the Official Languages Act. I understand that the Commissioner is now conducting an audit of training establishments within the Canadian Forces. We are, therefore, referring this issue to his office, and we will be providing him with a copy of our observations and recommendations in order to inform and assist him in his work. Although the Commissioner will have the lead on systemic issues as they apply to official languages and training in the Canadian Forces, we will continue to regard the availability of training in the official language of choice as a fundamental issue of fairness and will continue to investigate individual complaints in accordance with our mandate.

If you have any questions, I would be happy to discuss them with you at your convenience.

Yours truly,


Mary McFadyen
Interim Ombudsman

c.c.: The Honourable Peter G. MacKay, Minister of National Defence
Mr. Robert Fonberg, Deputy Minister of National Defence

Date modified: