New Brunswick — As a result of a recent wide-reaching investigation by the official languages commissioner, the majority of police service canines in the province were given their walking papers due to their lack of fluency in both official languages.
Commissioner Katherine d’Entremont issued a report earlier this week, which came down hard on all front-line public sector employees who are unable to converse in both English and French. The real possibility of these employees losing their cushy government jobs or contracts raised the hackles of many unilingual anglophones and francophones in New Brunswick, who feel it is unjust to punish those inept at processing multiple vocabularies.
After combing through the unnecessarily thick report, The Manatee discovered another recommendation bound to make the public bristle.
It seems d’Entremont scoured the ranks of the municipal police forces in the province, as well as security services contracted by the government, and discovered a potentially fatal loophole in which certain furry employees are hired with inadequate fluency in both English and French.
“This is simply unacceptable, especially from a public safety point of view,” d’Entremont told The Manatee. “What if an anglophone canine officer is sniffing out a meth lab in Bathurst and he hears freaked-out cooks yelling, ‘Merde, voici la police!’? He’d probably just assume it is normal human nonsense.”
Alternately, d’Entremont is worried about an inevitable Odd Couple or Perfect Strangers scenario in which a French handler is paired with an English mutt in an emergency situation; due to either officer’s partner being ill, or otherwise indisposed.
“Oh, mon dieu!” said d’Entremont. “Can you imagine having to hunt down an armed suspect that way? The French handler could yell until her face is the colours of the Acadian flag, and that dumb, unilingual dog would just sit there with its drooling tongue hanging out, letting the suspect escape.”
She was alarmed to discover that many New Brunswick police service canines operate under a “team approach.” If the front-line dog is unilingual, and the situation requires a dog fluent in the other official language, the handler must dismiss the ill-equipped mongrel and request another hound who is fluent in the language needed. In d’Entremont’s opinion, this does not amount to “equal service.”
D’Entremont said simply having bilingual dog handlers is insufficient in meeting official language requirements in this unique situation because it is against the spirit of the Official Languages Act. She reiterated that by putting these canine officers out to pasture due to their inferior language skills, the province will be closing an egregious public safety loophole.
Flying in the face of conventional wisdom, d’Entremont added, “You can’t teach old dogs new tricks.”
The privacy commissioner began her investigation in May 2015 after encountering a unilingual, English-speaking commissioner at a government office building. She was dumbstruck by the anomaly and was temporarily unable to communicate in English. However, the French-language centre of her brain remained operable. She asked the commissioner for assistance with the only functioning language available to her at the time, and was met with an equally confused and panicked response from the commissioner.
“It was scary, not being able to be understood,” d’Entremont said. “Not only was he unable to assist me, it was like looking in the mirror and seeing an old, white anglophone instead of myself.”
The commissioner recommends a 6-month to one-year phase-out period for the unilingual canine police corps. During this period, new 4-legged officers can be trained in both official languages, and learn the required life-saving procedures and techniques required to keep New Brunswickers safe. In the end, however, the commissioner only has the power to recommend changes, not to enforce them.