Shooting the Messenger

Till Death Do Us Part

The Ambassador and the Commissioner Trade Places

She did not stay long. She did not even bother to sit down. Holding back tears, the young investigator said she was quitting because of the “bullshit" ("de la merde") report the Commissioner of Official Languages was about to make public.

She said she was transferring to Correctional Services or Parole Services, or some other organization having to do with the care, feeding and rehabilitation of convicted felons, where she hoped to meet a better class of people than she had at Foreign Affairs. She said she was sorry, but there was nothing she could do, and rushed out.

I have not been able to trace the young investigator who made the bullshit remark. The Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, in response to an access to information request to provide the full name of their investigator, wrote to say that this information had been destroyed.

Foreign Affairs had expected me to acquiesce to a project that, if carried to its conclusion, would have made English the de facto language of administration at all our embassies, high commissions and consulates. Not even Brussels and Paris were to be spared. My director had warned me that if I did anything to interfere with this plan, I would be in trouble. The teary-eyed young woman was obviously worried about what was in store for me once the “bullshit report” became common knowledge.

Early in the investigation, Huguette had sat down with me and told me that Commissioner Yalden had written to Marcel Massé and that he was not satisfied with the Deputy Minister's reply. A wide ranging inquiry into multiple breaches of the Official Languages Act at Foreign Affairs was now underway.

Maxwell Yalden started the investigation; D’Iberville Fortier [1926-2006] would finish it. In 1984, Ambassador Fortier replaced Yalden as Commissioner of Official Languages. Yalden, in return, accepted to fill the departing ambassador's sizeable shoes and took up residence at 145 Avenue des Dames Blanches in Brussels—one of Canada's swankiest official residence with fifteen bedrooms and several acres of lawn and forest—as Canada's new Ambassador to the Belgium Court.

Why would the government appoint as Commissioner of Official Languages our Ambassador to Brussels when the existing Commissioner was conducting an investigation into a serious breach of the public trust by the Ambassador's colleagues and bosses and perhaps the ambassador himself? This charade would suggest that the government was looking for a bullshit report when it gave the Commissioner's job to the Ambassador and made an offer to Commissioner Yalden which would have been difficult to refuse.

“Multiple breaches of the Official Languages Act,” were dismissed by Fortier, in his report to Parliament, as a “lack of sensitivity towards the right of employees to receive services in their language.”

A revealing illustration of the lack of sensitivity towards the right of employees to receive services in their language was the team of four unilingual Anglophones and one bilingual employee that headquarters sent to Paris to set up a computerized financial control system.

Annual Report of the Commissioner of Official Languages, p.114

Fortier might have wished to downplay the seriousness of the breach—of multiple, serious breaches of the Official Languages Act—in order to bring about change while sparing the reputation of his former colleagues.

I have no problems with that. After all, Fortier did take the unprecedented step of insinuating his office into the hiring process at Foreign Affairs so as to ensure that even the most anti-French areas of the department, such as the Telecommunication Division and Management Services Division, would be forced to hire more Francophones whether they liked it or not.

What I have a problem with is his office looking the other way when the department decided to follow through on its threat. Fortier tabled his report in the House of Commons in the spring of 1985; that is when the guards came for me.