Senators wonder if all diplomats must absolutely speak French

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Senators wonder if all diplomats must absolutely speak French

Knowledge of both official languages ​​of Canada is required for some diplomatic positions, but not all.

Senate committee debates whether knowledge of French should be less of a requirement in the hiring process for diplomats representing Canada abroad as Ottawa orients its foreign policy towards the region indopacific.

The issue was raised during the hearings of the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, which is currently trying to determine whether Global Affairs Canada is able to carry out the country's objectives in terms of of foreign policy.

British Columbia Senator Yuen Pao Woo pointed out that many qualified people are very knowledgeable about Asian languages ​​and culture, but find themselves stuck because they are not fluent in French.

I wonder if it might not be possible to rank the skills of certain Canadians, he proposed, in order to compensate for certain lower marks for the deficiencies in French.

At a meeting on Nov. 3, Mr. Woo argued that diplomats should always have to learn French, but that this skill could be deemed less important for diplomats than for other employees in the sector. audience.

I can understand that we could not do it in other ministries, where the work is not done as much internationally, he acknowledged. But for Global Affairs Canada, where international openness is the department's raison d'être, you would think that other attributes would be rated higher.

When asked about this, the Minister for International Development, Harjit Sajjan, was open to the idea of ​​hiring English-speaking diplomats and having them learn French later.

International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan

It's my fault if I am not able to speak French, and I can find all the excuses, but there are challenges, said the minister who is an MP in British Columbia.

But when you're in the system, you can start to learn it, because you're immersed in that environment. Since I've been in Ottawa, it might not seem that way, but my French has improved a lot – and that's not a very good benchmark considering where I started.

Knowledge of both official languages ​​is required for some diplomatic positions, but not all.

In June, the director of human resources for Global Affairs Canada told the committee that recruitment is sometimes difficult due to lengthy security processes and testing for proficiency in both official languages.

The level of French proficiency in the civil service has been a delicate subject for some years, especially with regard to services abroad.

Documents obtained in 2020 by Le Devoir revealed that Francophones were virtually absent from key positions in Canadian diplomacy. While Francophones made up 42% of all employees at Global Affairs Canada, they made up only 18% of senior managers.

In April, diplomat Pierre Guimond, now an expert in residence at Laval University, told senators that these figures were the result of some semblance of indifference or misplaced comfort at Global Affairs Canada.

The reputation of the department, which is criticized for having little interest in the operation of a bilingual department, is a source of concern for its current and former employees, and even for certain Quebec candidates who wish to join the foreign service, underlined Mr. Guimond.

In my posts abroad, many were my diplomatic counterparts who did not understand why our Canadian diplomats were not all bilingual before mastering a third or even a fourth language, he added.

Global Affairs Canada is conducting a consultation this fall on the development of Francophone and Anglophone minorities in Canada and on the use of French and English in conduct of Canada's external affairs.

In addition, some Indigenous groups have also called on Ottawa to extend the salary bonus it offers to fluent public servants English and French to include those who speak an Aboriginal language.

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