Last Wednesday November 20 could be renamed The Great Day of Disrespect for English speaking and minority Quebecers.
As I was reading through the Office de Consultation Publique de Montréal Namur-Hippodrome (OCPM) webpage in preparation for the public hearings scheduled for that evening, like a good Anglo-Montrealer trying to stay informed of the goings on in my province, I had the National Assembly TV channel on in the background listening to the daily question period.
What started as an unpleasant discussion on who has what place in Quebec society, led to comments regarding who is and to what extent people are Quebecers. Who has the right to English services and how would this policy evolve? Quebecer by Level 1-2-3-4? Certified born with permit or just visiting? Recent arrivals versus Quebecois de souche?
But that was only the beginning.
Upon arrival at the OCPM public hearings, I noticed it was the usual set-up of all documentation in French, as is the website, with a simple summary document in English. Wandering through the assembled crowd, it was quite obvious that most folks spoke English, yet the official communications and interactions, it was announced, were going to be in French.
As the event progressed, numerous people requested a translation of technical and city presentations in English so as to understand what was being presented. This was met with a swift and strong reply that the law forbids city bureaucrats and the OCPM from communicating in any language other than French. This led to an outcry from the capacity crowd who simply wished to comprehend the proceedings. We were quickly assured by the unexpected intervention of OCPM president Madame Dominique Ollivier, that there would be an effort made to give a summary of discussions and that the panel would take questions in English.
At that point, I personally decided to speak up by reminding the commissioners that citizens came to be informed and that it was not a question of law, not a question of language, but simply a question of respect.
I’ve participated in some 20-plus OCPM, city and provincial hearings over the last 11 years and this interaction-discussion reoccurs each time without fail. There seems to be a substantial level of institutionalized reticence to respecting citizens here in Montreal.
Interestingly enough, the provincial government that put these linguistic restrictions in place seems more flexible and attuned to citizens needs than our local municipal administration.
Case in point. Having been appointed to sit on two provincial mandated committees for the MUHC Glen Campus and the KPH-Turcot projects, I witnessed citizens wishing to be fully informed during both projects were, after a simple request, pleased to be informed English documents would be available and the committee always made everyone attending public information meetings to feel welcomed and express themselves in the language they were most comfortable.
The reality is that not all Montrealers speak and or understand French well enough to comfortably participate in public events if unilingual French is the mainstay. Thus, people feel marginalized, excluded and made to feel less than a full citizen of the city they chose to call home, or like myself, were born in.
This is a constant that should be dealt with in a more responsible manner. No matter what the law says, by rigidly adhering to said law, it immediately takes from the topic at hand, puts people’s backs up, makes them ill at ease to express themselves and limits one’s access to information and understanding of the issues at hand.
Frankly, it’s simply a question of respect and common sense. I and everyone else in that room rightly deserved to have a clear understanding of the project. If that means information and discussion also in English… so be it. Give the people what they want. And that is full access to all information that allows them to be productive, involved and fully engaged citizens of Montreal, many who are homeowners and taxpayers.