[lg policy] Workers scolded for speaking Spanish, Arabic at heart institute

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Mon May 6 11:49:23 EDT 2019

Workers scolded for speaking Spanish, Arabic at heart institute

"It really shocked us," a worker said. "We feel a lot of pressure and
Updated: May 6, 2019

Some employees of the Montreal Heart Institute say they have been told they
must speak French all the time while at work, even when discussing personal
matters among themselves. DAVE SIDAWAY / JPG

Despite touting a “cultural diversity” policy
employees and patients, managers at the Institut de cardiologie de Montréal
have reprimanded a group of workers for speaking to each other occasionally
in an Arabic dialect and in Spanish — even when they’re on break.

The workers, some of whom were born in Algeria, have been told that they
must speak French all the time while at work, even when discussing personal
matters among themselves. One worker told the Montreal Gazette that he was
scolded for responding in English to an anglophone patient at the east-end

The de-facto all-French policy has been in force for the past two years
despite the fact Quebec’s Language Charter does not prohibit workers from
holding a private conversation in a mother tongue other than French. What’s
more, the provincial health act ensures “English-speaking persons are
entitled to receive health services and social services in the English

“It’s discrimination,” said a worker who was reprimanded for chatting with
colleagues in Spanish and for addressing the anglophone patient in English.

The employee said he communicates in French with co-workers, managers and
patients. But he switches to Spanish during private conversations with
Hispanic colleagues at the hospital. He agreed to be interviewed on
condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.


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The workers urged the hospital administration last year to provide them
with a legal opinion, as a manager had promised, that justifies the
all-French policy. When no opinion was forthcoming, they sent a letter last
December to the chairperson of the board, Pierre Anctil, requesting he
raise the matter at the next board meeting.

When Antcil did not reply to their letter or broach the issue at a board
meeting, the workers contacted Fo Niemi, executive director of the Center
for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR). Neimi, in turn, sent a
letter to Antcil on March 28.

“We have come to the conclusion that the language directive in question, as
well as the sanctions imposed on certain employees, seriously undermine the
constitutional rights of these employees guaranteed under the various
provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” Niemi wrote.

In an interview, Niemi said the workers are fearful and “they feel very
much under scrutiny. They’re intimidated.”

A technician of Algerian descent told the Montreal Gazette his previous
department head didn’t mind when he spoke in an Arabic dialect with his
three other colleagues. But the current department supervisor has adopted a
zero-tolerance policy.

“It really shocked us,” he said. “We feel a lot of pressure and harassment.”

Julie Letourneau, a spokesperson for the Office Québécois de la langue
français (OQLF), noted an institution has the right to “establish a
linguistic policy that can stipulate the moments when the use of French is
mandatory, but it has to be related to work.”

Asked whether the language charter explicitly requires conversations
between employees must always be in French, she responded: “Absolutely not.”

“The fact that (someone) speaks a language other than French at work is not
necessarily a violation,” Letourneau explained. “It’s really the employer
that has the responsibility to establish the distinction between private
conversations — because the charter does not apply to private conversations
— and communications that are truly related to work.”

Marie-Claude Pageau, a spokesperson for the heart institute, said the board
will likely raise the matter at its next meeting on May 13.

“We received a letter from CRARR that was addressed to our board chairman.
We’re in the process of reflecting on this question.

“We’re going to truly analyze what should become the (linguistic) policy,”
Pageau added. “It’s a delicate issue. We will respect the rights and
freedoms of our users, and everyone who works at the Institute, no matter
the title.”

Two years ago, CRARR took up the case of a former manager at l’Office
municipal d’habitation de Laval
quit after managers warned employees not to converse in Spanish during
office hours, except during lunch.

At the time, Letourneau of the OQLF offered a slightly different comment on
the use of languages other than French in the workplace.

“If (employees) decide to speak (to each other) in another language other
than French, there’s no problem — even if it concerns work,” Letourneau

 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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