Language police get tough with the English-speaking patient
The old fear falling sick as Quebec's separatists insist French is spoken in the doctor's surgery, reports Catherine Pepinster
Health care is the latest target of the "tongue troopers", as the English- speakers have dubbed the single-minded members of the Office de la Langue Francaise, whose job includes making sure that up to 90 per cent of signs in Quebec are in French and that the apostrophe is dispatched to oblivion.
The provincial government, dominated by the separatist Parti Quebecois, has asked the language police to investigate the use of English in health services, on the grounds that the right of Francophone workers to speak French in the workplace may be jeopardised. More than any other issue in the long-running language and separatism battle, however, this has distressed les Anglophones.
Doctors, nurses and patients have crowded public meetings to protest. For elderly English-speakers in particular, brought up in Quebec long before the separatist movement took control, the threat to access to health care in English is a terrible blow. "Imagine having to try and explain to a doctor that you have pains in your chest, you can't breathe, and you fear you have arthritis, in a language not your own," said one elderly woman last week, as she queued at her local branch of the Pharmaprix drug store. "I couldn't do it; I don't know how I'd manage."
A year and a half ago Quebec was just 52,000 votes away from seceding from the rest of Canada. Since then English-speakers have grown increasingly anxious about their future. "People are scared and worried," said Sharon Leslie, director of community development for the watchdog organisation, Alliance Quebec. "Families have been talking idly about moving away until now, but this health-care issue is what has really affected them. I've never seen such an outpouring of anger, concern and fear."
Fifty years ago, it was Francophones who believed their language was in danger of being wiped out, but today, thanks to tough legislation, French prevails everywhere. All children must be taught in French, unless their parents went to English schools in Quebec or can prove they are temporary residents. Newly-arrived immigrants from Italy, Africa and the Far East have no choice.
The Anglophones may be a minority, but the 1991 census showed that 716,000 Quebecers use English at home. Another 363,000 use neither of Canada's official languages. But in post offices, buses, museums, government offices, and shops - even English bookstores - the first language used must always be French. To the outsider, it can seem a welcome relief from the relentless onslaught of American language and culture. For those who live in Quebec, however, it can also hint at a growing intolerance in a nation with a reputation for multicultural understanding.
Sharon Leslie lives in the relaxed, mixed Montreal neighbourhood of Notre Dame de Grace, but there are indications here too of the tensions between Francophone and Anglophone, French and English. On Sherbrooke Street, the language police forced Young's Chinese food store to cover up the apostrophe in its sign, although it can still be seen underneath the extra paint. Competing flags - the maple leafs of Canada and the fleur de lys of Quebec - still hang from some windows, and in a snowbound side-street nearby, neighbours remain divided. Those who voted for separatism in 1995 no longer speak to those who voted to stay with Canada. "It was easy-going here, once," said Anne Duncan. "Something's been lost."
While car registration plates carry the motto Je me souviens - I remember - to remind Francophones of the surrender of Quebec to Britain in 1759, the entire conflict simply alienates others. For the Inuit and Crees, who lived in the wilder, northern territories of Quebec long before the British or the French colonised it, the increasing evidence of the province edging away from the rest of Canada is troubling. "It is being stated that, whether the Crees consent or not, we will be forcibly included in a new Quebec," said Matthew Coon-Come, chief of the Crees. "Our treaty with Canada was never intended to permit the international kidnapping of an entire people ... We have a right as a people to determine our own destiny."
More recent arrivals in Quebec have little time for conflicts over language at a time when the Montreal economy is stagnating and unemployment is at a record level. "What good is the mother tongue when you have no food to put on your own tongue?" demanded Andre Perron, an Algerian cab driver who fled the strife of his own country. "In the end for most people, it is money that is the universal language."
- 1 'We're not heroes, just tourists': Swedish police officers on holiday stop vicious assault on New York subway
- 2 Black Mass trailer: Johnny Depp might have started making good films again
- 3 Jacob Lescenski and Anthony Martinez: Straight student asks gay friend to High School prom and makes a million Twitter friends
- 4 Buckingham Palace guard who attacked passers-by in 'most most violent piece of CCTV footage' police officer had seen walks free
- 5 Australian student Tommy Connolly, 23, adopts his pregnant, homeless 17-year-old cousin to give her a chance at 'a better life'
Top 20 misconceptions people believe are true
Sofyen Belamouadden murder: The inside story of a crime that horrified Britain
'We're not heroes, just tourists': Swedish police officers on holiday stop vicious assault on New York subway
Head transplant: man will be attached to new body in under an hour and aim is immortality, doctor says
Buckingham Palace guard who attacked passers-by in 'most most violent piece of CCTV footage' police officer had seen walks free
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Katie Hopkins on LBC: Listen to caller taking The Sun columnist to task over migrant comments
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove
Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...
£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...
£28000 - £32000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...
£28000 - £32000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst...