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English-speaking Quebecers concerned government will limit health services

Click to play video: 'English-language rights advocates upset over dissolution of provincial health committee' English-language rights advocates upset over dissolution of provincial health committee
WATCH: Questions are being raised about whether Quebec will reduce health services in English. The government has insisted on several occasions that this is not its intention. But last month, it dissolved a committee that had spent years working to improve access to English-language services. As Raquel Fletcher reports, some Anglophones are calling this the first step to limiting English services in Quebec – Jan 13, 2022

Questions are being raised about whether Quebec will reduce health services in English.

The government has insisted on several occasions this is not its intention, but last month, it dissolved a committee that had spent years working to improve access to English services.

Some Quebec anglophones are calling this the first step to limiting English services in Quebec.

Read more: Quebec’s overhaul of its strict French language law under microscope at Bill 96 hearings

English-speaking Quebecers only have the right to health services in English that are defined in what’s called an “access program.” It’s a written guide that the province’s health institutions agree to and that is approved by the ministry.

Last month, committee members working to modernize and extend access to health services in English were given their walking papers. The government said the committee needs to be restructured in order to be more representative.

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However, some people in the English community say it’s suspicious.

“It was a surprise that the minister was changing the rules of what we thought was a perfectly good committee, working very well,” said Sylvia Martin-Laforge with the Quebec Community Groups Network.

Liberal MNA David Birnbaum tried to table a petition to stop the restructuring — or at least delay it — but the government acted so quickly, the decision was already made before the petition could be presented at the National Assembly.

The committee’s report, not yet made public, is still waiting for approval from the health minister.

“Now he [Health Minister Christian Dubé] is about to name a committee in his own image, which will report to him, which will largely be chosen by him, which will, make no mistake, put at risk some the access to and delivery of English language health and social services,” Birnbaum said.

Read more: Legault’s take on what it means to be a ‘historic’ English-speaker in Quebec problematic some say

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During public hearings for Bill 96, the government’s French language reform, the minister promised the community in English that his bill would not infringe on anglophone rights.

However, the government has also used the term “historic anglophones” which has lead many in the community to believe the government plans to deny immigrants the right to receive health services in English, even if they are more comfortable in that language.

“You would have close to 300 – 500,000 English-speaking Quebecers having to worry about whether their access to English services was about to be compromised. We have major questions,” Birnbaum said.

Read more: Quebec City public hearings concerning Bill 96 wrap up amid controversy

“Let me reassure you and your audience that that is not at all our intention,” said Christopher Skeete, the parliamentary assistant to the premier for relations with English-speaking Quebecers.

He said that Bill 96 will not reduce access to health services in English: “If you’re sick in the hospital, you should be able to express yourself in a language that your comfortable in — or tell the doctor where it hurts, obviously,” he said.

Skeete said the government does not have an ulterior motive, explaining the changes it’s making are to make sure that all regions — and Indigenous people — are represented on the committee.

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“I look very forward actually to reading that report and putting it forward as a starting point. No one wants to bury anything,” he said.

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