[lg policy] Canada: Policy shift riles English advocates:

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sat Jul 21 14:51:40 UTC 2012

Policy shift riles English advocates: Health insurance board switches
from bilingual to ‘en français’ at service centre

By Charlie Fidelman, GAZETTE Health reporter July 20, 2012

QUEBEC - Quebecers will face a French comprehension test before being
served in English at the provincial health insurance board, which
recently switched its communication policy from bilingual to “en
français” at its customer service centre.

The move by the Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québec (RAMQ) to
revise its communications to comply with Bill 101, the province’s
French-first language policy, worries minority-rights advocates.

In the wake of five complaints related to RAMQ’s language
restrictions, a provincial English-language advocacy group says the
policy will hurt patients seeking critical health information, for
example about medical therapies, psychiatric treatments or specific
drug coverage for cancer and other illnesses.

But RAMQ spokesperson Paule Saillant said the board deals mainly with
administrative issues such as medical card renewals, not primary care.

“We’re not a hospital – it’s not like they are going to a hospital,”
Saillant said. “People’s lives are not at stake.”

As of January, callers to RAMQ get a recording that says, “The board
informs you that it first communicates with its customers in French.”

According to RAMQ, customer service agents are to respond initially in
French to callers who have opted to be served in English. Agents are
“to use their judgment” to gauge whether callers are fluent or possess
sufficient understanding of French to be able to hold a conversation
about health in the language of Molière rather than Shakespeare.

Agents are supposed to verify comprehension by asking clients whether
or not they’ve understood the information provided, Saillant said.
“People don’t have to worry about that,” she said. “Customer service
is very important and agents need to make sure that there are no

But the board does not have established guidelines to indicate when
RAMQ employees should switch to English, Saillant admitted.

“It’s based on judgment,” Saillant said. But those who explicitly ask
for English will be served in the language of their choice, she added.
Pressing a button to choose English does not suffice.

As for service complaints, Saillant noted that there were only five
for some 700,000 transactions.

Too bad that RAMQ politicized the issue, as health is about service
rather than language, said Dan Lamoureux, president of Quebec
Community Groups Network, an umbrella organization of 41 advocacy

“If your French is not good, will your services suffer?” Lamoureux demanded.

“If you need a blood test, you certainly don’t need a language test,”
Lamoureux said, paraphrasing a comment made by former premier Lucien
Bouchard nearly 15 years ago during a speech to the English community
at the Centaur Theatre.

“We’re afraid that this policy will deteriorate front-line services in
hospitals,” Lamoureux said, noting that great strides have been made
by the English community to embrace French since Quebec’s Quiet
Revolution of the 1960s.

Studies show that up to 80 per cent of young anglo Quebecers are
bilingual, but among seniors and immigrants the language gap remains,
he said.

The group plans to pressure various parties on the issue during the
coming election, he said.

Jean-Paul Perreault, head of the French culture group Impératif
français, disagreed. French is the language of Quebec, he said in a
communiqué, and the onus is on those who live here to learn to speak
it so they can fully integrate into society.

Read more: http://www.montrealgazette.com/life/Policy+shift+riles+English+advocates+Health+insurance+board+switches+from+bilingual+fran%c3%a7ais/6967533/story.html#ixzz21GjTDxri

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