The rights of unilingual anglophones are protected under law
The provincial government has agreed to fund research into the needs and problems faced by anglophone seniors living in Quebec.
Today, all schoolchildren are immersed in the French language at an early age and most become bilingual adults. This was not always so and there are many anglo Quebecers who are not proficient in French.
There was a time when the Québécois language and identity required support to ensure its continued existence. However, it is now English that is in need of recognition and protection. We hear stories about a lack of communication in English by government bodies, about a shortage of health and social services in English, about individual acts of nastiness toward those unable to express themselves in French. What we don’t hear about is the other side of the story. But there are those who do understand that not everyone is bilingual and that their rights must also be respected.
My first example took place in the 2010 and involved the Ministry of Employment and Social Solidarity. A non-French-speaking person was refused financial assistance because he had failed to produce all the documents and information required. The person had been employed in the inspection and repair of large motor vehicles. He was forced to stop working because of a heart problem. At first he benefited from his employer’s disability insurance program. When this ran out, he asked for financial assistance from the local ministry office.
The office sent him a list, in French, of 14 different documents it wanted within 10 days. When he failed to send those documents, he was advised that his claim was refused as it could not be evaluated. He requested a revision of that decision but the decision was maintained.
He appealed to the administrative tribunal and explained that he had asked for an English version of the list but had never received it and that the agent in charge of his file did not speak English.
The judge based himself on the law that states: “The Minister must assist any person who requests it to facilitate the person’s understanding of and access to a measure, a program or a service. Among other things, the Minister must assist the person in making an application for financial assistance.”
The judge held that the employees of the local employment centre should have provided a list of their requirements in English. He noted that the claimant lived in an area that was predominantly anglophone. The government employees should have taken whatever measures were necessary to provide all information to the claimant in his language.
Consequently, the tribunal found that the claimant had not been able to provide the necessary documents because he had not had the necessary assistance to do so. The judge ordered that the payments be made to the claimant retroactive to the date on which he had first applied for them.
The judge said in his judgment: “Enfin, le tribunal se doit d’interpréter l’esprit des lois sociales de manière large et libérale en tenant compte du contexte globale d’une situation.”
The next story concerns a job opening for a lawyer with a youth centre near Val-d’Or. This was an area that serviced several English-speaking aboriginal communities and one of the job requirements was bilingualism. The complainant’s union contested the bilingualism requirement and the fact that the job had gone to someone with less seniority and demanded that the job go to him.
The youth centre argued that bilingualism was a reasonable requirement, justified by the fact that there was a large anglophone population in the area. The union argued that bilingualism was unnecessary, that it contravened the collective agreement, and that it violated the French Language Charter and the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In rendering judgment against the union, the tribunal looked at the Health and Social Services Act, Youth Protection Act, French Language Charter and Quebec Charter of Rights.
In rendering judgment, the tribunal pointed out that the Charter of Rights prevails over the language charter. Under the terms of the Charter of Rights, a distinction, exclusion or preference based on the aptitudes or qualifications required for an employment, or justified by the nature of an institution devoted exclusively to the well-being of an ethnic group, is deemed non-discriminatory.
The Health and Social Services Act says that English speakers are entitled to receive health and social services in English and that the relevant institutions must develop a program of access to health and social services in English for the English speaking population in their area. The Youth Protection Act imposes an obligation on those working with children and parents to ensure that all parties understand each other.
The employer, the Youth Centre, had to be sure that the attorney it would hire would be able to ensure that the obligation to inform the child and his parents was carried out; that the meeting and preparation of witnesses that was an important part of the judicial process could take place and that communication with parents prior to a hearing was assured.
A unilingual attorney would not be able to do these things and knowledge of English was necessary to “accomplish the job.”
Because the attorney’s work concerned children, parents and others who were English-speaking, the requirement of bilingualism did not contravene the collective agreement.
These cases show that laws do exist to protect the rights of the anglophone community and that the courts will protect the use of English when called upon to do so.