Sorry, I Don’t Speak French: Anti-bilingualism Protest in Cornwall Demands “Equality For All”

Welcome to the first installment of Sorry I don’t speak French, taGueule’s way of opening dialogue between what are too often known as “two solitudes”  here in Canada. We will occasionally publish articles in English (or translate some of our hottest French articles) in order to seek out opinions from the anglophone community.

“Equality For All” ?

As you may have heard, bilingualism has been the target of the media in the last few months. Whether it was the Fraser institute’s report saying that bilingualism costs 2.4 billion dollars annually to maintain in Canada, the appointment of a unilingual justice to the Supreme Court, the appointment of a unilingual auditor general by Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, the Official Languages Act is taking a beating in comments sections in Sun Media sources across the country. More recently in Cornwall, protesters have taken action against what they claim are “unfair hiring policies” at Cornwall Community Hospital.

According to protestors, the hospital’s administration is only hiring bilingual nurses and letting go staff who are not because of its designation under the Ontario French-Language Services Act (also known as La loi sur les services en français or Loi 8). South Stormont’s city council (who relies on the Cornwall hospital) also decided to withold its annual $30 000 donation to the hospital for the same reason.

So What’s The Problem Here?

The protestors and the city of Stormont are missing the point. In a city like Cornwall, where 30% of the population is francophone, isn’t the additional skill of speaking French a desireable quality for a candidate applying to a nursing position? Consider the following. A middle-aged woman is rushed to the hospital yelling: “J’ai mal au cœur, j’ai mal au coeur!” A non-fully-bilingual nurse could misinterpret the woman saying “j’ai mal au cœur” as saying she has chest pain. While this is indeed a literal translation, French-speakers know that having “mal au cœur” actually means having abdominal pains. As it turns out, the woman’s appendix bursts and she requires immediate surgery. Do we really want a disproportionate number of unilingual nurses working at this hospital? Don’t agree? Why not listen to this CBC radio interview with the Mayor of South Stormont and the chair of the Cornwall Community Hospital and decide for yourself?

What’s the deal with the hypocrisy of the protestors? Slogans like “Equality for All” or “Fairness in Full-Time Positions. Education + Experience before Language” can be read on their signs. Surely, learning French isn’t added education or anything like that. If a unilingual francophone applied for the same position, he or she obviously wouldn’t be hired in a hospital where about 70% of the patients only speak English, that would be absurd! Where does the bigot at 1:30 in this video get off with his claims that a unilingual Canada would save billions of dollars? When did the francophones from Cornwall say they wanted a separate country? Isn’t the fact that the FLSA exists a testament to the fact that francophones are proud Canadians and wish to remain so? Isn’t the fact that they want to be served in their language in their homeland demonstrating their love for their country? Buddy, we live here too!

What’s up English Canada? I know people like this are the minority, but where did they come from? I’m not blaming you, but I’m curious. More importantly, what Canada did they grow up in? It sure as hell isn’t the same one I did.


March 8th 2012, 11:32 pm edit: For anyone wondering whether or not the bilingualism policy means that all jobs be bilingual at the hospital, here is an official statement from the hospital stating otherwise.

Photo: Des manifestants dénoncent la nouvelle politique d’embauche de l’Hôpital de Cornwall, Radio-Canada

  • Lloyd W. Fisk

    These people do not represent all of « English Canada ». I personally think that it is great to live in a bilingual society. To speak another language only helps one better understand their mother tongue.

  • Needless to say that comments on this article are welcome in English and in French. Let’s talk.

  • visiteur

     What is up with those radicals (one flag, one language ???)  since when is the french language such a threat to their lives?

    • Au Canada, les questions linguistiques sont souvent traitées à la manière de ce que les anglophones appellent « a zero-sum game », où le gain de l’un signifie nécessairement une perte équivalente pour l’autre. Dans cet esprit, les protestataires ont le sentiment sincère de perdre quelque chose équivalent à ce que les francophones gagnent.  

  • I actually do think it’s a little extreme to ban all non-bilingual employment in one fell swoop. Are we sure there isn’t some misinterpretation in that policy? Sure, there should always be someone bilingual in every department at all times. If you ask me imposing bilingualism is their way of respecting the FLSA without spending money.

    Don’t shit on the government, they didn’t create the hiring policy, they created the law, and said law is more than fair if you ask me.

    • Who shit on the government? Who said they were banning non-bilingual employment? The protestors are claiming being unable to get a job currently as unilingual anglophones, but if the hospital needs bilingual employees, it’s obviously going to be part of the hiring criteria. The same way, if the hospital needs people who have a specialization in social work, they’re going to hire people who have a specialization in social work. 

      They’re not imposing bilingualism. The hospital is already subject to FLSA, and was created from the merging of a French-language and an English-language hospital. They’re still spending money, they’re just trying to meet their FLSA requirements if you ask me.

    • Just want to make a little precision:
      The Cornwall Hospital don’t ask every employee to be bilingual. This skill is required for some of the posts, not for all.Just to make sure there’s always gonna be someone bilingual in every department at all times, as you said.

  • libraire

    Thank you Michel!!!!!  I was very anxious to read tagueule’s take on this sensitive issue and you did not disapoint sir!!!  

    Comme souligné dans ton texte, les manifestants débordent d’hypocrisies
    quand on interprète le sujet un peu plus à la hauteur de l’employabilité et non
    un débat de langue.  Genre un Klingon
    unilingue qui boss sur la Enterprise c’est dangereux quoi!   

    -Shields up Warf


    Résultat : violente explosion…   🙁

  • Patient care needs to be at the top of the priority list. ONE bilingual person in the ER is not enough, unless this ER only ever deals with one person at a time who is only comfortable/able to successfully communicate in french at a time.

    It seems clear to me that front line staff needs to be primarily bilingual. Actually, front line staff in a region that is made up of 30% francophone people should be able to speak French and English (only in Canada does the term « bilingual » mean French/English!)

    And, I agree with Lloyd. The nutjobs do NOT represent all of English Canada.

  • Richard Theoret

    Cornwall area MP Guy Lauzon should be called out for not having enough courage to side with bilingualism on this issue. By not taking a strong stance, he gives credility to red necks and APEC nostalgics. Shame on you Mr. Lauzon.

  • bubbagum

    Wake up people; you have no idea what these racist, bigoted francophonys are up to. They have been bragging about it for decades.

    “My roll as Secretary of State of Canada is first and foremost to ensure that my French compatriots in Canada feel with deep conviction, as I do, that this is their country and that it reflects their image”. “I too had some difficult years as a politician; I’m still having them, in fact, because everything we undertake and everything we are doing to make Canada a French state is part of a venture I have shared for many years with a number of people”. “You know the idea, the challenge, the ambition of making Canada a French country both inside and outside Quebec — an idea some people consider a bit crazy, is something a little beyond the ordinary imagination”. – Serge Joyal, Secretary of State – Page 2 ‘ENOUGH’ by J.V. Andrew. – Serge Joyal – Now in the Senate.

    This is THE biggest scam, the biggest fraud and lie ever forced upon the Canadian public. People have no idea what this man Trudeau did to this country.

    “Quebec can make French the only official language in spite of the Constitution”. Pierre Trudeau, .

    “There is no way two ethnic groups in one country can be made equal before the law….and to say it is possible is to sow the seeds of destruction”. Pierre Trudeau,

    .” ….Given these facts, should French-speaking people concentrate their efforts on Quebec or take the whole of Canada as their base? In my opinion, they should do both; and for the purpose they could find no better instrument than federalism”, Pierre Trudeau,.

    “I cannot swear it but I think we were thinking to ourselves,… we are a small group, Trudeau, Pelletier, Marchand, Lalonde, Chrétien, myself and a few people in the civil service, say 50 all told…we were bringing off a revolution. We held the key posts. We were making the civil service bilingual (French), kicking and screaming all the time”. Jean-Luc Pepin, Minister of Industry, 1970.

    50 years of spin, lies…thats what we have got. They are changing the names of towns, streets, counties, bodies of water, riding names…and I’m not taking about kebec any longer. It’s now going on all over the country; it’s a mess in Ottawa where they name things after anti-English language bigots and racists all the time. They are slowly wiping out our English, Scottish, Irish, United empire loyalists history. Just like they’ve been doing in Quebec for the last 5 decades (bills 22, 178, 101…)…This is one of the main reasons we are not teaching any history from 1760 to 1982 in our schools any longer.

     These racist people control government, the curriculum, our money…we get a daily dose of spin, lies and propaganda.

    Remember one thing folks – The liberals brought in a lot of this expensive nonsense, bilingualism (forced french, only outside Quebec), multiculturalism, the charter, rights this, rights that…but the Conservatives have done nothing to repeal any of this crap federally or provincially. ???

    The Conservatives have allowed all of these expensive, divisive liberal polices, and departments to remain??? How come?

    What would you eliminate Conservatives, well tell us! What fees will you reduce and eliminate, what departments will you cut, will you bring down hydro rates…how will you pay off debt…will you bring in a government hiring freeze, a salary cap…?

    Until bill 8 (French language service act) in Ontario is repealed the french will continue to take more government (hospitals, policing, law…) jobs, and wipe out more of our real BNA, UEL history, and also bankrupt the province in the process. They have been bragging about it for decades and the Conservatives have allowed all of this to happen. Liberal, Tory same old story.

    • We should all just learn mandarin alread and convert to state communism… right?

    • Michel Laforge

      Hi there! Thanks for your comment!

      I’m all for teaching history from the 18th century up until today. Mostly, because the French presence dates back to that period in Ontario anyway. 

      You’re talking a lot about forced French, but I’ve yet to meet an anglophone my age (I’m 21) who seriously thinks that French was forced upon them. 

      I’d also like to point out that wherever you’re mentionning the use of French in the Trudeau era, you’re neglecting to mention the fact that what he said in regards to establishment in Québec and outside was complimentary to the populations already in place. Nevermind that there have been francophones outside of Québec since long before and long after 1759 (the year of the British conquest). 

      If the (federal) Conservatives (as much as I dislike them myself) aren’t touching bilinguism, then maybe it’s not really as expensive as you claim. 

      You’re also talking about it being unfair that Québec adopt French as its only official language, but fail to mention Manitoba repealing its bilingualism, or the fact that none of the other provinces (aside from N-B) are even bilingual. Forced French? Doesn’t sound like it to me. 

      You’re talking about the horror that is renaming streets in honour of «anti-English language biggots» (apparently outside of Québec… which I’d like to get an example for if possible) but you have no problem with the number of cities who have a street named Durham? 

      I think the main problem here is that you’re trying to get your point across, not based on principles or ideas, but on specific examples. You’re missing the bigger point.