Keith Spicer Obituary, Death Cause – Raised in a household with Protestant parents who held anti-Catholic and anti-French sentiments, Mr. Spicer embarked on a career in political science before being called upon by two prime ministers for roles as an ombudsman. These roles involved addressing sensitive issues related to language and national identity, which many would have considered riskier than usual. In 1970, at the age of 35, he was appointed by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau as Canada’s first Commissioner of Official Languages. In this role, he was responsible for enforcing the Official Languages Act, which granted English and French official status in organizations and institutions under federal jurisdiction. The act was a response to the demands of French-speaking Canadians for equal language status and an attempt to quell the secessionist movement in Quebec.
However, achieving nationwide acceptance of bilingualism proved to be a challenging endeavor. Mr. Spicer explained that bilingualism was a government requirement, not an individual one, emphasizing that the policy ensured that “each citizen is served in the language he’s taxed in.” He also promoted the teaching of French immersion in English-language schools across Canada. Known for his vociferous and irreverent style, Mr. Spicer was often seen wearing safari suits and Panama hats, even in the chilly Ottawa climate. He had a penchant for drinking beer from a wine glass, citing the Parisian custom. He humorously reminded English speakers that his love for French blossomed when he began corresponding with a French girl as a pen pal in the 10th grade.
Mr. Spicer famously stated, “Bilingualism and biculturalism work best through biology,” and unapologetically declared, “The best place to learn French is in bed.” In 1990, following the collapse of a constitutional compromise and amid debates over the character of the country, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney tasked Mr. Spicer with leading the Citizens Forum on Canada’s Future. This initiative aimed to gather citizens’ feedback on government-related issues and the identity of Canada as a federation of provinces and territories within the British Commonwealth.