Language policy affects supply of nurses

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Wed Jan 12 15:46:19 UTC 2005

Language cops bust Quebec nurses

Canadian Press

POSTED AT 8:29 PM EST Tuesday, Jan 4, 2005 Montreal Two nurses at an
English hospital have had their licences revoked after failing a written
French test even though Quebec faces a nursing shortage. Elizabeth
Davantes, 47, and Eulin Gumbs, 43, who both speak French, say they'll look
for work outside Quebec after losing their jobs recently at the Jewish
General Hospital.

Quebec's language watchdog and the provincial nursing federation require
that all nurses, even those in English hospitals, pass a written French
test. Ms. Gumbs has failed the test five times, while Ms. Davantes has
failed on four occasions. Ms. Gumbs, a single mother of two, said Tuesday
she's looking for a job elsewhere now that she can't work here.

I don't want to leave, said Ms. Gumbs, who rates her spoken French as
excellent. Quebec is my home. My family lives here, my kids live here. But
I cannot support myself on nothing. The Office de la langue francaise
recently warned the use of French in the workplace is in a precarious
state in Quebec and Premier Jean Charest has hinted at a crackdown.

However, the province faces a major nursing shortage. A report released in
2003 suggested the province will lose 16 per cent of its nurses to
retirement in 2006. Head nurse Serge Cloutier, who worked with the two
women, said the ranks of his profession are already thin and won't be
helped if nurses are forced out. It's a bad situation, Mr. Cloutier said
in an interview.

Of course, if you lose two nurses it makes a difference. The nursing
federation did not return phone calls on Tuesday. The hospital said
Tuesday it did its best to help the women. The Jewish General Hospital
actively tried to keep (the nurses) on staff, even though they failed the
written section of the French exam, the hospital said in a statement.

Officials at the hospital wrote several letters to the nursing federation
and spoke with the language agency in an attempt to have the nurses'
licences extended, said the hospital. But the nurses had their licences
revoked in October, said the hospital. A spokesman for the language
watchdog, the Office de la langue francaise, said his organization isn't
to blame for the two nurses losing their jobs.

Gerald Paquette said the French tests are drafted with the help of
professional orders and employers. Rev. Darryl Gray, president of the
English-rights lobby group Alliance Quebec, said Quebec is showing ill
will towards the women.

Anglophone nurses definitely are not going to jeopardize the French
language in this province, he said in an interview. Rev. Gray said he
wonders why the province won't work with Ms. Davantes and Ms. Gumbs to
help them improve their written French skills. How can we attract people
to this province if it has been made clear to us by the province that
we're not wanted? he asked.

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