“Surely we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow human beings and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts brothers and sisters once again.”
~ Robert F. Kennedy
Premier Legault supporting the decision of the OQLF to order Lachute General Hospital to cover up English signs because “Bill 101 is the law and the law must be respected” was wrong as to the law, wrong as to morality and wrong as to the week that was. The only language of a hospital must be compassion.
French signs were seamlessly predominant at the hospital. So that condition of Bill 101 was met. But more importantly the Premier demonstrated that he didn’t have the political will to exercise the law. Sec.58 of Bill 101 states clearly that “Public signs and posters may be in French and in another language provided that French is markedly predominant.” The section goes on, “Government may determine by regulation, the places, cases, conditions or circumstances where French may mot be predominate or where signs and posters may be in another language only.” This exception has been exercised in the past particularly since Bill 101 itself makes provisions for them where health and safety are concerned.
Despite nine Lachute area Mayors writing letters supporting bilingual signage, Premier Legault did not have the political will to do the moral thing. Instead, as so many Premiers before him, he chose to pander to nationalistic sentiment.
Though not as bad, this incident is reminiscent of what happened several years ago when then Health Minister Dr. Réjean Hébert took the unilateral decision to pull Lachine General Hospital out of its arrangement with the MUHC. Hébert justified his decision by saying it was necessary to protect Lachine’s “francophone vocation.” But LGH’s decision to join the MUHC was based not only on its need for more money and doctors, but also on the fact that the physical proximity of the MUHC was simply closer than the francophone CHUM.
Hébert’s decision was purely political, creating an issue where none existed. As with Lachute, that decision was roundly condemned not only by the hospital’s medical staff led by Dr.Paul Saba (founder of Physicians for Social Justice), but by the Mayors of the communities it serves including those of Lachine and Dorval. And just as francophones have rallied to Lachute General’s defence we are reminded of a famous interview with a Lachine General nurse at the time who perfectly said, “What’s the issue? We’re here to make people well. We have enough people to speak either language.” She understood the medical oath of “do no harm” better than the politicians.
But what was most disappointing in Premier Legault’s position was that this whole incident came against a backdrop of a very troubling public commentary. Now, we have always written that freedom of expression — save for overt incitement to violence — is indivisible. While the events in Lachute were unfolding, in a column that the editors of Le Journal de Montréal found fit to print, Denise Bombardier denounced members of minority groups who complain of their treatment in Quebec as “enemies … of French-speaking Quebec.” Then she urged that Quebec must “extinguish these hotbeds of intolerance.” Extinguish. Interesting choice of word. So it is not those who created institutionally ingrained laws of intolerance that created two classes of citizens, but their victims who are deemed “intolerant” and worthy of being “extinguished.” Bombardier sounded like Quebec’s own Marine Le Pen. We wait with anticipation for francophone intellectuals and commentators to denounce Bombardier.
This was a week for the Premier of all Quebecers to demonstrate that not only has language nothing to do with health, but that he does not view English as an “enemy of French-Speaking Quebec.” He missed an opportunity to “help us become brothers and sisters once again.” But he can change his position because it is never too late to do the right thing.