From Cold War to Present Day

Francophones in the Military

Tackling the Language Issue

In the mid-1960s, amid preparations for large-scale restructuring, there was a readiness to deal, however imperfectly, with the issue of Francophones and the French language in the Forces. But there was more. The two defence ministers in the years 1964-70, Paul Hellyer and Leo Cadieux (later ambassador to France), were determined to see the situation change, and for the first time a French Canadian landed the top military job. General Jean V. Allard was a Second World War hero who in 1943, when his career appeared to be blocked, had transferred from the armoured division to the infantry. Against all odds, he had managed to preserve his Francophone identity and have his three children schooled in French. Allard devotes an entire chapter of his memoirs, published in 1985, to his efforts on behalf of Francophones in the military, reversing the fortunes that had been theirs for over a century.

In the years 1966-69, General Allard made the Francophone issue a priority, advancing on all fronts and setting some major objectives. Two years after his departure, the 1971 white paper would feature one of his innovations, a commitment to have Francophones represented in all trades, classifications and ranks in proportion to their numbers in Canada. In Allard's three years as Chief of Staff, he increased Frenchlanguage units (FLUs) in all three forces as well as in the various arms of the army. He launched a programme that would enable Francophones to be recruited and trained in French before serving some career segments in their own language within FLUs.

Having made these major thrusts, Allard would leave the issues to his successors. The course he charted has been continued with varying degrees of felicitousness by his Francophone and Anglophone successors. National defence requires the participation of all Canadians, including the large Francophone minority. They must be treated fairly, and their culture and language must be recognized and respected.

It would be simplistic to conclude that all the traditional anomalies in the Forces have been eliminated. Since 1983, Francophones have accounted for some 27 percent of military personnel - one of Allard's goals. However, they are still over-represented in the lower ranks and under-represented everywhere else. In the military occupations where they had been conspicuously absent up to the 1960s, the shortfall is far from bridged. Instruction in French made impressive gains between 1969 and 1972, then slowly progressed for several years before falling back in some respects in the early 1980s, not to recover momentum for another dozen years.

While bilingualism has been a virtual Francophone monopoly, plans in the late 1960s and early 1970s allowed for Anglophones to receive French-language instruction. Unfortunately few of the objectives in this area have been reached.

In short, much has been done to formally recognize the need for full Francophone integration into the military in the interests of cohesiveness in national defence. A viable framework is in place for anyone to join the military in French and to function in French. However, an impartial observer will readily see that much remains to be done. Without the setbacks of the 1970s, the present situation would be more positive.