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