An advertisement for Spicer’s lecture in the Queen’s Journal.

Keith Spicer is a Canadian public servant, academic, journalist, and author. From 1970-77, Spicer was the first Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada. He was appointed Commissioner by Pierre Eliot Trudeau and was mandated to uphold French and English language rights in all federal institutions under the 1969 Official Languages Act. He promoted the use of both languages in service and work and French immersion programs in Anglophone schools across Canada. From 1989 to 1996, he was chairman of the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commissions, where he promoted Canadian programming. In 1990, he took several months’ leave from CRTC to chair the Citizen’s Forum on National Unity – the “Spicer Commission.” Through his career, he taught at the University of Toronto, the University of Ottawa, York University, the University of British Columbia, Dartmouth College, UCLA, and the Sorbonne, and has lectured widely on language rights, national broadcasting policy, and Canadian national unity. As a journalist, he wrote for the Globe and Mail from 1966-1969 and served as editor-in-chief of the Ottawa Citizen in the 1980s. From 2000 to 2007, he was the founding director of the Institute for Media, Peace and Security at the UN-launched University for Peace in Costa Rica. He is the author of eleven books, including A Samaritan State? External Aid in Canada’s Foreign Policy (1966) and Sitting on Bayonets: America’s Endless War on Terror and The Paths to Peace (2011). He is an Officer of the Order of Canada and holds honorary degrees from several universities.

Spicer’s lecture was the last in the Dunning Trust series “Canada Towards the Year 2000.” which Spicer was given the task of addressing the place of bilingualism in Canada’s future in the wake of the Official Languages Act. Spicer argued that for the foreseeable future, there would continue to be not a significant bilingual community in Canada, but two distinct unilingual communities. And because of this, the country required an institution – as provided by the Official Languages Act, though its function could be performed by something else – to mediate between the two communities and mandate institutional bilingualism to protect individual unilingualism. The point of the OLA, as he saw it, was to have a central bilingual capacity to allow citizens to be “blissfully unilingual,” to receive service from the government in whichever language they spoke. Spicer’s talk addressed three aspects of this question. He first outlined the federal response to the OLA, then the place of language in provincial matters, and finally suggested a reordering of priorities between the provinces and the federal government. In the question period, Spicer addressed contemporary debates including protests around the use (or lack of use) of French as the language of air traffic control in Quebec. In this case, he suggested that the conversation needed to revolve around safety, not the OLA.

Listen to Spicer’s lecture below.

Keith Spicer delivers his Dunning Trust lecture.
A brochure for the series “Canada towards the Year 2000.