Ombudsman Recognizes Progress in the Treatment of Francophone Recruits

September 24, 2007

General R. J. Hillier, 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

Re: CFB Borden - Official Languages

Dear General Hillier:

As you will recall, during my visit to Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Borden in November 2006, I met with a number of Francophone students who informed me of serious difficulties they were experiencing training and working in their first official language. Given the impact this was having on the welfare of these students, I wrote to you on three separate occasions (January 8, 2007, March 6, 2007, and April 16, 2007) to bring the matter to your attention and to seek assurances that these concerns would be addressed. I have attached this correspondence, as well as correspondence between our office and the Chief of Military Personnel regarding this issue.

In your letter to me of April 5, 2007, you indicated that the CFB Borden Official Languages Strategic Plan contained immediate corrective measures, including additional funding, the establishment of a mechanism to allow students to voice concerns, and awareness briefings to guarantee the protection of language rights of Canadian Forces personnel and their families. The former Chief of Military Personnel assured me on May 24, 2007, that all necessary steps were being taken to address the problems at CFB Borden. 

After receiving this correspondence, I directed two Ombudsman investigators to conduct a follow-up examination at CFB Borden in order to track anticipated progress and the results achieved for Francophone students. Our investigators travelled to the Base on June 19-21, 2007. After conducting ‘town hall’ sessions and confidential surveys, they informed me that the situation was, in fact, worse and more widespread than I had previously understood. For example, although a Strategic Plan and a list of short-term corrective measures had been prepared, it was evident that no tangible action had been taken. Moreover, our investigators found that Francophone students:

  • remained unaware of their linguistic rights;
  • did not know how to report problems;
  • had not received support from the chain of command;
  • were facing longer waiting periods than their Anglophone peers for occupational training; and 
  • were not provided meaningful assignments or English language training.

In addition, our investigators found that Base services, including medical care, were often provided only in English to Francophone students incapable of expressing their concerns adequately. I was also troubled to hear that students complained about intolerant attitudes and statements made to them by some instructors, military staff and civilian employees.

It was clear to our investigators that Francophone recruits at CFB Borden were experiencing unacceptable language barriers, and felt isolated and alienated. It was also clear that the professional development of these recruits was being hindered, and that their morale was suffering.

As no tangible action had been taken to address the problems at CFB Borden, I requested a meeting with the Honourable Gordon O’Connor, then Minister of National Defence, and yourself to discuss this issue. At the resulting meeting on July 25, 2007, at which you were represented by Major-General Semianiw (newly-appointed Chief of Military Personnel), I informed the Minister of the lack of progress that had been made in ensuring the fair treatment and well-being of Francophone members at CFB Borden, and described the impact that this was having on the students and their families. I also requested the Minister’s support in ensuring that the problems at the Base were addressed immediately. Specifically, I 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; and
  • an effective assistance mechanism be established immediately to provide an avenue for students to get help in resolving linguistic problems.

I also requested that the Canadian Forces provide a progress report to our office by December 1, 2007.

I was pleased that we were able to reach an agreement on these short-term measures. I was also pleased to learn that there now seems to be some concrete action taking place. I welcomed the visits of Major-General Semianiw and Major-General Gosselin (the new Commander of the Canadian Defence Academy) to CFB Borden to address the Base leadership, school commandants, senior instructors, and Francophone students about the need to ensure that students are treated fairly and that linguistic rights are respected. I was also pleased to receive, on August 20, 2007, a letter from Major-General Semianiw reporting on the progress they had made to date and confirming that we would receive another update on this matter by December 1, 2007.

Although I remain disappointed in the length of time it has taken to address these fundamental fairness and welfare issues, I am encouraged by the recent actions that have been taken. I look forward to reviewing Major-General Semianiw’s update in December. I will also continue to monitor the situation first-hand. Ombudsman investigators will travel to CFB Borden to measure the progress being made in all schools, not only those in the Canadian Defence Academy chain of command.

In closing, I would like to emphasize my firm view that real and immediate action is needed to address these problems that go to the heart of the well-being of Francophone students at CFB Borden. I should note that I have discussed this matter with Mr. Graham Fraser, Commissioner of Official Languages, and will continue to keep him apprised of significant developments in this case. I also intend to pay particular attention to any linguistic challenges faced by other Canadian Forces members during my future visits to Canadian Forces Bases, Wings and Schools across the country. I strongly encourage you to provide the direction and funding needed to ensure the linguistic rights of all Canadian Forces personnel are respected.

Given the importance of this matter, and pursuant to paragraph 33 of the Ministerial Directives, I am providing this letter and the associated attachments to Minister MacKay, and I intend, at the expiration of 28 days, to release this information publicly.

I would be pleased to address any questions or concerns that you may have.

Sincerely yours,

Yves Côté, Q.C.


The Honourable Peter MacKay, Minister of National Defence
Chief of Military Personnel

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