Bilingualism at the CIA

By Marie-Eve Bourgault

One year before the passage of the Official Languages Act in 1969 made Canada an officially bilingual country and proclaimed English and French the languages of the Canadian federation, a discussion paper on bilingualism was presented to the then Board of the CIA. Judging by the dates, one might well argue that the CIA was ahead of the curve when it came to bilingualism in Canada, offering its services in both languages even before these languages were proclaimed official. This speaks to how important bilingualism has been for the CIA right from the Institute’s founding, to the point where it has now become its trademark.

Yet it was not until 1973 that a Committee on Bilingualism was struck, chaired by George W. Poznanski. Its mandate was to:

Provide support to committees, the general membership and the Institute’s Secretariat in maintaining bilingual facilities in the Institute, and act in an advisory capacity both in the development of the Institute’s bilingual capability and in the application of its bilingualism policy.

The committee was also charged with making recommendations to the Board on the implementation of practical bilingualism in the Institute’s affairs. The first actuarial exam in English and French was offered in 1976.

The Committee on Bilingualism tabled a report with the Board in May 1977, the gist of which was a call to review the Institute’s existing bilingualism guidelines and make recommendations to the Board on any changes deemed appropriate. It was agreed that the CIA should accommodate English- and French-speaking actuaries as fully as possible in order to make them feel that they fully belonged to it and that they derived all the professional benefits that the organization could provide. The Board adopted these detailed recommendations, but the committee was dissolved in 2000.

The Bilingualism Policy was adopted in 2005, and is revised every five years. Its purpose is to preserve the Institute’s bilingual character and provide members and the public with meetings and documents in the official language of their choice, on a timely basis. This applies to all CIA-produced documents and those jointly published with other actuarial associations and external organizations. Here are three policy statements that you can observe in effect on a daily basis:

  1. Publications (e.g., administrative policies, public positions, and reports). According to Statement 1.a. of the policy: "All CIA publications shall be translated and published in both official languages simultaneously." All guidance material is presented, in both official languages, to the Practice Council for approval prior to publication. The CIA Head Office is responsible for quality control on all CIA publications and ensures that they are translated and peer reviewed by an appropriately qualified actuary.
  2. Distribution of publications. All English and French CIA documents are distributed to members at the same time and in the language of their choice. When members receive notice of new publications in the CIA Announcements, these publications are downloadable from the CIA website.
  3. Simultaneous interpretation. The Head Office endeavours to provide simultaneous interpretation and recording of CIA-organized meeting/conference proceedings. Simultaneous interpretation is provided during plenary sessions and select concurrent sessions at Annual Meetings and specialty seminars where anticipated meeting registration is 100 or more.

In short, the policy’s goal is to ensure that all Institute publications be published and distributed to members in both official languages and that simultaneous interpretation be offered at all general sessions.

In conclusion, we at the CIA are proud of our bilingualism. It is the Institute’s trademark, and it makes us unique among national actuarial associations. The Head Office is working hard to comply with this policy and to produce quality documents in both English and French. The effect of CIA bilingualism has been to improve member services, ensure compliance with the Official Languages Act, unify the country’s actuarial profession, and reduce the risk of a language-related split.

By Marie-Eve Bourgault, French editor, CIA Head Office

Canadian Institute of Actuaries/Institut canadien des actuaires