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Saturday, November 07, 2015

 Quebec's Language Paranoia

"It was our practice to post signs in the two languages, considering that 15 percent of the population of our region is anglophone."
"So we had to take down certain signs, in particular for directions."
Genevieve Cloutier, spokeswoman, Health authority, Gaspe, Quebec

"All the signs are bilingual. It's bigger in French. But in the town of Gaspe, there are a lot of people who speak English. As far as I'm concerned, with the Office de la langue francaise, enough is enough."
"Yes, we  have a yellow strip on our cards. But most of us have it in our pockets. How are they [anglophone patients] supposed to know?"
"Get out. That's the message I'm getting. If you don't want to live in Quebec and speak French, just get out of the province."
Margo Adams, nurse, Hotel-Dieu, Gaspe 
Hôpital Hotel-Dieu de Gaspé
Google Street View    Hôpital Hotel-Dieu de Gaspé

"This is a public establishment trying to accommodate its clientele, which is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Not only is it a public establishment, it's a public health and social services establishment where fifteen percent of the population is English-speaking."
"[The province should regulate] to make it clear that access to service means access to information too, and signs happen to be a way that people get information rather than running around trying to find people wearing yellow badges."
Eric Maldoff, chairman, Quebec Community Groups Network, health and social services committee

Canada is an officially bilingual country. New Brunswick, given its large French population is also officially bilingual, and throughout the rest of Canada municipalities make an effort to provide French language services where population density deems it common sense to do so. In some non-bilingual provinces, other than federal offices, bilingual services are considered a requirement.

It is, after all, common courtesy in a bilingual country to serve people in their official language of choice.

In Quebec, however, things are different; the provincial operates as a unilingual entity. Learn French or flounder. In the United States, courtesy and tourism combine to produce dual English/French signage on highways. It's a matter of practicality, courtesy and safety. Cross the boundary from the United States into Canada in the Province of Quebec and no such even perfunctory recognition that an English-majority demographic enters the province as tourists or to transit to Ontario.

And in Quebec when municipal authorities make an effort to be helpful in recognition that not all residents have familiarity with the French language, the Office quebecois de la langue comes prowling. As the province's language watchdog, it takes it mission and its authority very seriously. And so it was when it informed a Quebec hospital that bilingual signs it posted to aid in guiding anglophones, that English signage was not permitted.

In the past ten years the health authorities had authorized bilingual signage "to facilitate access to our services in English". However, as the bulk of patients using the hospital speak French, only health and public safety warnings are permitted to be posted under the provincial language laws. Hospital hallway signs, as an example, to guide in English where a particular department can be found, are out.

Bilingual signs indicating to anglophones where X-rays are taken now will simply read "rayons X". Visiting hour signage will now also be in evidence only in French. Nurse Margo Adams, who works at the hospital complained that older people who haven't learned to speak and read French will be deleteriously impacted by the removal of bilingual signage. Instead, they are advised to look for English-speaking staff, who will have a yellow strip on their I.D. cards.

According to a spokesman for the language watchdog, anglophone patients remain entitled to treatment in English, assuming they find their way to their doctor. However, the Charter of the French Language, Bill 101, emphatically stipulates that unless a majority of a hospital's users speak a language beyond French no bilingual signage will be posted. "The charter  says that health services have to post signs in French, except all the signs concerning health and safety", he intoned.

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