Esprit de Corps: Changing With the Times

Esprit de Corps – Blake Hurdis

For 87 years, Commissionaires has had the mandate of providing meaningful employment for the men and women who have served the Canadian military and moved on to civilian life.

It’s a mandate they continue to live by. “Because our social mandate is employing veterans, we think we fit very nicely in that continuum of opportunity for veterans when they transition out of the forces,” explained Bill Sutherland, chairman of the national board of directors for Commissionaires.

This organization was founded in 1925 with the establishment of branches in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. At the time, their mandate of employing veterans saw them hire veterans of World War I.

By the 1950s, Commissionaires had expanded across the country and veterans of WWII and the Korean War seeking secure civilian jobs joined the ranks.

“After the First World War, you think about all those people that were demobilized in 1918 and 1919 and the start of economically difficult times in the 20s and 30s — that’s when Commissionaires was set up and it was focused very much on the veterans,” said Sutherland.

With their mandate of employing veterans, Commissionaires has been providing the majority of security services to the federal government since 1945.

Currently, veterans carry out more than 66 per cent of hours provided at federal government sites.

For generations, we came to know the Commissionaires for those veterans of the “greatest generation.” It was those brave men and women, formerly dedicated to a life in the Canadian Forces, that we met as they manned their security posts in both public and private institutions.

Their presence was one we grew with, became comfortable with, and one we came to trust. We got to know them by name. We learned their birthdays. They became part of our work family, and fixtures in our lives.

As those veterans move off into a well-deserved retirement, the Commissionaires have been met with a new young generation to mind the post. It has become an unofficial changing of the guard for an organization still living by the mandate that bore it.

These are no longer your grandfather’s Commissionaires. In 2011, more than 4,000 Canadian Forces members left the military through attrition. At the same time, Commissionaires was hiring roughly 1,000 former military members annually.

“A lot of veterans, particularly younger veterans, newer veterans, need some kind of transition or stepping stone,” said Sutherland. Providing a place for veterans to transition, surrounded by fellow veterans, has allowed Commissionaires to expand their services from the traditional security guard.

That expansion has been one of necessity. As security needs have changed over the last two decades, Commissionaires has grown and adapted to meet the challenges.

That has meant increased capabilities in fingerprinting, background checks, mobile ID services, loss prevention and GPS asset tracking. These capabilities are also highly dependent on robust technological services.

The business of providing security has changed drastically and Commissionaires has changed right along with it. And it’s those young faces in the always-recognizable Commissionaires uniform that are helping the organization adapt and meet demand by bringing to the unique skills they developed in the military to their new civilian jobs.

For veterans transitioning out of the military, it’s often difficult to explain how the skills they acquired in the military translate to what civilian employers are looking for.

“To translate what their experience was in the military, what they learned in the military, the skills they learned in the military, to translate those into civilian terms is often pretty difficult. You almost need a universal translator,” explained Sutherland.

Even as a stepping-stone into establishing a civilian career, Commissionaires provides an intermediate opportunity for veterans to translate their valuable skills in an organization that’s competitive in the private sector.

“We actually compete in the world of security, so we compete with private sector firms but we’re a not for profit and our focus is on veterans,” said Sutherland.

As part of that focus, Commissionaires signed a memorandum of understanding with the Department of National Defence in 2010 that would see them provide employment opportunities to injured or ill service members transitioning into civilian life.

In the early stages of reintegrating soldiers who have served and sacrificed in Afghanistan, the agreement with DND is an essential initiative in maintaining the pride, integrity and honour of Canada’s veterans.

“One of our biggest challenges is to change as an organization, to adapt to the needs of veterans, to meet their expectations, to do so in a way that is respectful and provides them with that firm base,” said Sutherland.

As Commissionaires has transitioned to a younger face, employing the veterans of today really isn’t a transition at all. There’s camaraderie between generations.

These may not be your grandfather’s Commissionaires, but as veterans with pride in service, they represent the same ideals, the ideals Commissionaires was built on.

The new face of Commissionaires. Veterans of the Afghanistan mission also number among the ranks of the organization, which has expanded the number of services provided to include fingerprinting, background checks, GPS asset tracking and other high-tech skills.

Commissionaires by the Numbers
25: Airports where Commissionaires provides security
95: The percentage of revenue Commissionaires returns to members in pay and benefits
1,000: Members of the Canadian Forces and RCMP hired by Commissionaires every year
46,000: Fingerprints Commissionaires processes annually for immigration, employment and travel visas every year
1,200: Communities across Canada where Commissionaires are employed
63: Municipalities that use Commissionaires for by-law enforcement
250,000: Number of people trained by Commissionaires


Commissionaires is a not-for-profit security solutions organization that has been protecting Canadians for 87 years. Their mandate is to provide meaningful employment to veterans of the Canadian Forces and RCMP.

For more information contact [email protected]