From Cold War to Present Day

Francophones in the Military

Obstacles to Francophone Participation

The various surveys conducted in the 1950s revealed that French Canadians, who represented approximately 27 percent of new recruits, were leaving the military at an alarming rate, from their very first year. Those who survived 12 months of adjusting to a new life and a new language would stay as long as Anglophones, but they were very few in number. In 1951, Francophones made up 2.2 percent of naval officers, 11 percent of NCOs and seamen. An average of 38 weeks of training would be required for a Francophone recruit to become functional in a naval environment, as opposed to 21 weeks for an Anglophone recruit. The 17 weeks of English instruction would very often prove inadequate when it came time for technical courses. The message was clear: French Canadians were not wanted in the navy. The initial reaction from the navy came in 1952, with the establishment of an English-language school where Francophones would be able to spend up to six months before tackling instruction in English. In short, they were proposing assimilation. One wonders whether the people who dreamed up this solution suspected just how small the response would be. In the air force things were not much better, with Francophone representation standing at 4.7 percent among officers and 16.3 percent among NCOs and troops. In the army of 1958 the percentages were 14 and 21, respectively.

In the 1950s the army made changes, though partial and sometimes awkward. In 1954 a Francophone artillery sub-unit was formed up and sent to the town of Picton, Ontario, where Francophobia was alive and well. In 1957 a tank squadron was formed. In the early 1960s both of these sub-units would be struck from strength. On the other hand, in 1952 Collège militaire royal de Saint-Jean in Quebec opened for officer cadets from all three forces, and it would remain, until 1995, as a part of the movement for a greater Francophone military presence. It preached functional bilingualism for all officer cadets, Anglophone as well as Francophone, offered university and other courses to each group in its own language and recruited an average of two Francophones for every Anglophone. For nearly two decades, however, if the first three years were spent in St Jean the last two were spent at the Royal Military College in Kingston, and in English only. What is more, the military training - or "summer training" - sessions were frequently held in English. The Francophone attrition rate in this programme would remain very high at the outset.

Thus the situation was slowly improving when, in the late 1950s, Quebec Francophones began making ever stronger demands for formal equality. The department simply continued to conduct studies. In 1960, Marcel Chaput, a future champion of Quebec separatism, produced an analysis of test scores for infantry officers applying for promotion that had resulted in Anglophones receiving higher marks than Francophones: The tests had been prepared in English, then loosely translated; and answers written in French were translated before being marked. Here was the source of many problems, Chaput declared. It should be noted that all of this was transpiring in the army, where French Canadians had the strongest presence and the greatest success. In fact two major-generals from the Royal 22e Régiment in a row, Jean V. Allard and Paul Bernatchez, would occupy the second-highest position in the army headquarters hierarchy.