Imagine a real war breaking out in Quebec. In an emergency, you are reluctantly forced into exile with your children. Germany is the only country that could welcome you. You don’t speak a word of German, but you are ready to learn. Do you really think that after six months, even with all the good will in the world, you will master the language perfectly?
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I don’t know about you. But not me. I may have studied German for a year at CEGEP, but that doesn’t exactly make me a native German speaker. If I had done a year of immersion in Germany, I would probably have a better command of the language. But certainly not well enough to discuss in German the academic problems my children may have or the trauma they may have suffered during the flight.
As unrealistic as it may seem, these are the kinds of requirements that could be imposed on immigrants and refugees, with Bill 96.
This reform of Bill 101 proposes to ban public sector employees from communicating with people they serve in a language other than French, with some exceptions. Exceptions are communication with citizens who attended primary school in English in Canada, with natives or with immigrants who, during their first six months in Quebec, would need reception services. An exemption, the exact scope of which has not been specified by Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, is also foreseen “when required by health, public safety or the principles of natural justice”.
As troubling as it may be, this aspect of Bill 96, which could jeopardize the accessibility and quality of services offered to newcomers, has received very little media attention. Perhaps because those most at risk of suffering are among the most vulnerable in society. Most of the time speechless, committed to rebuilding their lives, they do not manage the demonstrations.
Family doctor at CLSC de Parc-Extension, Dr Juan Carlos Chirgwin is among those who worry about the new barriers that Law 96 will impose on people who already face their share of obstacles.
“I know the government is trying to tell us: ‘Don’t worry, your direct contact with the patient will not be affected by the law.’ He knows it, but he remains skeptical.
In his office, Dr Chirgwin sometimes advises in Spanish when needed. He gives me the example of a Mexican asylum seeker, who he believed he had to keep going to work after being injured in an accident at work. “He did not understand the system with the CNESST. I had to explain it to him. He said to me: “I can’t skip a day at work, because my boss won’t pay me.” ”
The Dr Chirgwin was able to help him in Spanish take the necessary steps for his rehabilitation and his return to work. Law 96 will not prevent you from continuing to do so. “Only the biggest problem is that health is not just about what goes on in the health workers’ office. At some point, the patient will leave the clinic and will not be able to receive essential services to maintain good physical or emotional health. The law will cover several other situations in which the patient, who does not speak French, will seek to receive services, be it accommodation, food or childcare ”. And when someone falls due to language barriers, society as a whole loses.
In the field of education, stakeholders who work with newcomers on a daily basis are wondering how they can continue to do their jobs well under Law 96. “In education, it would be particularly bad because there are no exceptions.” notes Janet Cleveland, a researcher on the rights and health of asylum seekers, refugees and stateless migrants at the SHERPA University Institute.
With a coalition of professionals and stakeholders, Janet Cleveland has taken steps so that essential public services are exempt. But two memoirs and an open letter supported by 2,500 people didn’t make it possible.
“Speech therapists or remedial teachers tell us: when you meet the parents of a child who is having difficulty in school and the parents do not speak French, it is important that you can communicate with them. Otherwise, we cannot ask for their informed consent and their participation in the child’s support. ”
Would a speech therapist in a school setting who would like to speak Spanish to the Spanish-speaking parents of a student in Quebec for more than six months have the right to do so?
In a private school, yes. In a public school no, because the speech therapist has to embody the exemplarity of the state and thus perform his service in French, I was told at the office of the minister responsible for the French language.
If the employee fails to comply with the law, they may expose themselves to anonymous reporting and sanctions.
However, nothing prevents her from using an interpreter if she feels the need, it is specified. Therefore, in theory, she could complicate her life legally and indirectly do what she cannot do directly … In reality, since access to interpreters is already difficult, the employee does not risk anything to be able to do anything and be faced with a beautiful ethical dilemma. But at least, rest assured, it will have been exemplary in the eyes of the state, because nothing at all has been provided in French.
Far be it from me to oppose the goals of a new 101 bill to protect the French language in Quebec. That French should become the common language for all Québecers, whether they have been here for six months or six generations, I completely agree. But I don’t see how provisions that add barriers to immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, or senior grandparents sponsored by their children bring us any closer to that goal.
My grandmother, who nevertheless did not lack the desire to integrate, did not master French perfectly six months after her arrival in Quebec. But she ended up learning. And that didn’t stop her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren from living and working in French today. Her case is far from anecdotal. Examples like these, there are thousands. After decades of progress in welcoming newcomers to Quebec, seeing immigrants like her as a threat to the French reality in America strikes me as a sad setback.