November 19, 2013 7:21 pm
Updated: November 19, 2013 8:12 pm

Getting services in own language can be a battle for Quebec’s rural English-speaking seniors

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OTTERBURN PARK – When Ronald Cross started suffering from serious respiratory problems in the spring, his 70-year-old wife Margaret drove him almost an hour away to the Royal Victoria Hospital in downtown Montreal to get treated.

“He was critically ill in the spring. So I personally drove him to the Royal Vic so that I knew he would get services in English,” she said while tending bar at the town’s Canadian Legion Post.

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The recent formation of a new group – Seniors Action Quebec – highlights an issue that faces a lot of Quebec’s anglophone seniors in rural areas: getting services in English.

“There’s nothing available for the 55-year-old farmer who’s showing precocious signs of Alzheimer’s,” said Official Languages Commissioner Graham Fraser, who spoke at a recent SAQ launch at Concordia University.

The group is not an Anglo-rights defence group that would take to the street against the Charter of Values – it’s more of a lobbying organization aimed at helping senior English-speakers get healthcare, pension benefits and other services in English.

“We’re not interested in fighting language wars and so on,” said David Cassidy, the president of the organization. “But language is an important component because access to information is limited.”

According to the 2006 census, about half of Quebec’s anglophone seniors are monolingual. And of those about half are immigrants.

Otterburn Park’s English-language library recently closed. But thanks to a community book drive led by the Richelieu Valley Community Learning Centre that rescued about 4,000 books. The increasing isolation of anglophone senior citizens is something that Brian Peddar says is a constant concern – especially with aging.

“If there are only a few groups that operate in English, being able to get to those groups if you lose your licence or lose your health to drive, that can be a challenge,” he said.

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