January 9, 2019 5:58 pm
Updated: January 9, 2019 6:20 pm

Quebec language watchdog tells Lachute hospital its English signs must go

WATCH: The hospital in Lachute has started removing all English signs from the premises. The reason? The OQLF says the signs do not conform to the province's language laws. As Global's Phil Carpenter explains, anglo-rights advocates caution this decision -- in a community with strong English ties -- could be drawing a line between languages.

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An edict from Quebec’s language watchdog that a hospital northwest of Montreal must remove English from its bilingual signage has angered municipal officials.

The Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF), which enforces the province’s French language charter, recently contacted the hospital in Lachute, Que. and told it take down English signs inside and outside the facility.

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Scott Pearce, the mayor of nearby Gore, said the language watchdog is needlessly stirring up trouble in a community that prides itself on not having any language strife.

“A lot of Quebec could learn from our region. We don’t have these language debates. We get along great. We love each other, we do things together, we work together,” Pearce said Wednesday.

“Maybe that problem exists elsewhere, but it doesn’t exist here, so don’t bring your problems here is how we look at it.”

Pearce was part of a group of nine mayors in the lower Laurentians region — both French- and English-speaking — who issued a statement last month saying they were “bitterly disappointed” by the decision to remove the long-standing signs.

“Even though it is partly in English, this signage in no way constitutes a threat to the quality or promotion of the French language,” the statement said. “On the contrary, excluding English signage in a hospital and health-care setting can be seen as a lack of respect toward members of a community that is very important to (the region.)”

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The mayors plan to adopt a motion opposing the change at a meeting next week.

Quebec’s language law, known as Bill 101, says signage must be in French only unless the majority of a facility’s users speak another language or health and safety considerations require the use of another language.

Myriam Sabourin, a spokeswoman for the regional health authority in the Laurentians, said the hospital, located about 90 kilometres northwest of Montreal, last month began obscuring words like “parking” and “entrance.”

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The task, including taking down the “Emergency” sign outside, will take a few months to complete, she said. She said the work won’t represent an additional cost because the bilingual signs are nearly two decades old and needed to be refreshed anyway. Patients will still be able to receive services in both languages, she added, “but the signage must be in French only.”

Hospital and municipal officials were not told where the complaint that triggered the action came from. In 2015, a Gaspé hospital was similarly told to remove bilingual signs following a visit from a language inspector.

‘It’s just not how we do things here’

Geoffrey Chambers, president of the Quebec Community Groups Network, which represents more than 50 anglophone groups across the province, said more discussion is needed about how such decisions are made. He questions, for example, why a sign indicating “X-ray” in English would not fall under the language law’s health and safety exemption.

“They’re exceeding their authority,” Chambers said. “What we really want is a dialogue about these kinds of things.”

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Pearce said he hopes the provincial government will intervene. About 15 per cent of the region’s residents identify themselves as English-speaking, according to provincial figures.

“But it’s not about percentages, it’s just not how we do things here,” Pearce said.

“We’re not very happy with bureaucrats from Montreal trying to stir up a debate where one does not exist.”

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He added that he does not consider it a language debate.

“It’s a debate about values. The Office québécois de la langue française’s action does not coincide with our values as a region.”

© 2019 The Canadian Press

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