It’s tough being a civil servant in Ottawa these days. It’s a minefield of rules and regulations. There are just so many things you need to know.
Take RCMP Chief Supt. Marty Cheliak, head of the Canadian Firearms Program. He’s been in that job for a year now, and he’s a strong believer in the gun registry. He was all set to give a major report to the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police annual meeting in Edmonton next week, when all of a sudden, somebody noticed he doesn’t speak French.
Well, that tears it. The poor guy probably spent the whole year working on that report, but what good is it if the French Canadian chiefs of police can’t understand it? Cheliak has been sent for retraining, though news reports don’t say where. At press time, Nordicity was unable to confirm rumours that he’s tending the turnips on a collective farm in outer Shawinigan.
But that’s just how it goes in a bilingual country. You prosper in two languages or you perish in one. And as the prime minister himself has pointed out, there’s nothing political about the decision to turf this dissenting policeman after a year on the job – the RCMP (or le GRC, as Cheliak is now learning to say) makes its own staffing decisions.
Cheliak aired a preliminary version of his report this past spring, at a parliamentary committee studying a Conservative private member’s bill to scrap the long-gun registry. The report highlighted a number of ways in which the police believe the registry assists them in their work. Conservative members on the committee are said to have been shocked to the core to discover that the chief superintendent would not be delivering his report in both official languages.
It is not known at this time whether a deficiency in one or both of Canada’s official languages is a factor in the dismissal of Pat Stogran, but it has not passed unnoticed that the Veterans Ombudsman has been an outspoken critic, in English only, of the government’s treatment of disabled veterans.
Stogran has been a tireless campaigner for the rights of Canada’s war wounded, but, he complains, “I can’t get inside the system to understand.” Probably he just hasn’t tried asking his question en francais. If Canada’s war wounded are all going to be hawking pencils on the street corner in a couple of years, don’t francophone Canadians deserve to know it too?
Critics of the government have tried to suggest that Stogran and Cheliak were victims of a government mentality that will not tolerate dissent. They point to other “victims,” such as Peter Tinsley, the former chairman of the Military Police Complaints Commission, dumped before he could conclude his enquiry into alleged cabinet complicity in torture, or Linda Keen, former head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, fired for refusing to reopen a leaky nuclear plant. No word yet on whether these two speak French.
Then there was Paul Kennedy, of course, the former chairman of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, dumped after criticizing Taser use. Should have called himself commissionaire pour plaints publiques, he’d probably still be in the job today.
What about Adrian Measner, president and CEO of the Canadian Wheat Board? Would he still be in the job today if he had taken those upgrading courses in French? Even in 2006, the government’s political foes were trying to spread the false rumour that Measner was fired because he opposed the Conservative position on dismantling the board.
Enough excuses already. All of these public servants have tried to pass off their own inadequacies as political interference from a paranoid, over-controlling government. What nonsense. The matter is simple. Anyone can criticize this government in any way they like, they’re completely open-minded about dissent – so long as it’s presented in both official languages.
Al Pope won the Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon in 2010 and 2002. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.