Health-care and social services professionals in the province continue to raise the alarm about the potential impact of Bill 96. The bill is meant to strengthen the province’s Language Charter, but these professionals are expressing fear about an erosion of health and social services for those who aren’t fluent in French.
“It says that it will be forbidden for public service employees to use languages other than French,” said Janet Cleveland, a researcher at SHERPA University Institute that specializes in services for immigrants and refugees.
“That means a Greek immigrant who found a social worker who speaks Greek — they would not be allowed to communicate in Greek,” explained Robert Leckey, McGill University Law Dean.
Some institutions like the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) and the Montreal General and the Jewish General will be exempt. But those who oppose the bill fear that patients outside bilingual institutions could be put at risk, since it limits full access to services in the language of their choice.
Government ministers have been pushing back saying that’s not so.
“What people are entitled to have,” maintained Simon Jolin-Barette, minister responsible for the French language, “is health and social services in their own languages even if it’s French or English.”
He referenced section 15 of the Provincial Health Act, which is supposed to guarantee that. People with concerns argue Jolin-Barette’s claims are misleading and that the bill is too vague.
“Since they took the time to write the bill, we want to see that the rights of patients in Quebec are guaranteed in writing in that bill,” said patient advocate Seeta Ramdass.”
Some argue health and social services, other than what’s provided by doctors and nurses, could be affected.
“Children with language disorders will need access to a speech therapist,” Dr. Juan Carlos Chirgwin, a family physician pointed out. “Elderly people need care at home, and whether it’s a child or an adult, with vulnerabilities or not, disabilities or not, if they’re not able to communicate in the language that is their mother tongue, this will create problems and possible medical errors.”
Adding to the concern and confusion, he noted, is that despite reassurances from the government, none have come from the health minister Christian Dubé, and he hasn’t given any clarification.
Chirgwin believes that minister must publicly list all the social, medical and other services that won’t change once the bill becomes law.
Cleveland pointed to confusion around some of the exceptions in the bill that says when “health, public security or the rules of natural justice are required, it’s ok to use other languages. But that has not been defined.”
She argues health and social services should be exempt from Bill 96 since there are many other ways to protect the French language. The bill is expected to pass in the coming days.