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An RCMP officer in red serge walks in a Canada day parade. In the crowd behind him, people wearing red shirts are waving provincial flags.

Linguistic diversity supports communities and police work

Cst. Fan Wu, who works with the B.C. RCMP ceremonial unit, speaks fluent Mandarin. He has used his language skills on a variety of calls. Credit: RCMP


Across the country, RCMP officers are providing public safety warnings, connecting with people at community events, and helping the police and the public understand one another in the languages they know best.

In 2022, Statistics Canada reported that more than 200 languages are spoken throughout Canada and nearly 13 per cent of Canadians speak a language other than English or French predominantly at home. That linguistic diversity is reflected in the ranks of the RCMP.

For Cst. Fan Wu at the RCMP's Burnaby detachment in British Columbia, speaking Mandarin has helped on a variety of calls. In one case, he responded to a Mandarin-speaking woman in distress and threatening self-harm. When Wu began speaking with the woman in her language, it relieved tension and allowed him to help her get the help she needed.

"A lot of times people can already be stressed and then the police speak a language that's foreign to them. Using a language that they understand can really help them calm down," he says.

Wu also works with the B.C. RCMP ceremonial unit attending events like citizenship ceremonies. He says there's always a smile when he offers congratulations in Mandarin.

"I get quite proud when I know they're Chinese and I'll be able to congratulate them in Mandarin. They are very happy to see me there as well," says Wu.

Translator network

When an officer with a particular language skill is unavailable at a detachment, the RCMP has a system in place that identifies officers in neighbouring detachments who speak uncommon languages. When required, they can be called upon to assist with investigations outside of their detachment area.

That happened last December when the Yellowknife RCMP encountered a person who speaks Amharic, an official language of Ethiopia. They called Cst. Thomas Alemayehu at the RCMP detachment in High Level, Alta. He moved to Canada from Ethiopia in 2008, joined the RCMP in 2019, and is fluent in Amharic.

"When I joined the RCMP, one of the first things I did was list my language so that if officers across Canada ever came across an Amharic-speaking client and were struggling to communicate, I would be able to bridge that communication gap," says Alemayehu.

Alemayehu was able to help the Yellowknife resident understand the situation and learn how they could seek support while navigating the justice system.

"Canadian people are getting more diverse by the day and for officers like me who speak an uncommon language, it's very rewarding to have something you can contribute and help out other RCMP officers," he says.

Accessible resources

In British Columbia, the RCMP offers a variety of resources in different languages including safety tips on recognizing fraudulent calls and cryptocurrency scams, and a newcomer's guide in 10 languages other than English and French. The guide is designed to help people understand the role of policing in Canada, how and when to contact police, and what to expect if approached or questioned by a police officer.

"Even 911 isn't universal," says Dawn Roberts, director of communications with the B.C. RCMP, whose team oversees and develops products like the safety tips. "The guides provide foundational information about how we provide policing."

When a specific community is the target of crime, the RCMP will work to provide information in the language they best understand. For example, a set of safety tips was released after investigators saw a spike in Chinese nationals studying in Canada who were being targeted by virtual kidnapping scams. This scam tricks family members into believing someone has been kidnapped and may be harmed if they do not pay a ransom.

"Our members provide insights to the communities, such as the social-media platforms they use more often, and members who speak the language can provide tips in interviews with the ethnic media we have in B.C." says Roberts.

Roberts says the B.C. RCMP's diverse workforce allows them to put out messaging in a culturally appropriate way and reach people more effectively.

"We need to make sure we get it right when we're speaking to people in their language. Having police officers who can say, 'in our culture, we would say this,' is so important. It's not just a literal translation of one term to another, but getting to the nuance," she says.

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