Every non-Francophone legal, political and communal leader has raised alarms over Bill 96 prejudicing the right to English services in health care. But from the Premier on down, Quebec officials have consistently insisted that the language bill does not touch those rights. But that is not how the law reads. Health Minister Dubé has a responsibility to fix this since Justice Minister Jolin-Barrette, who wrote the Bill, will not.
In recent months, doctors at Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital were given yet another briefing on the Bill meant to calm fears. It didn’t work. And one of the reasons it didn’t was that aside from the words in the Bill that have a restrictive definition of who is automatically entitled to English services, Premier Legault made it worse. He said that anyone who was entitled to go to English schools is entitled to English health services. But even Bill 101 was not that restrictive, and by some estimates, Legault’s definition would leave out 300-500,000 people in the province.
“The law is written in the most complicated way possible,” said Eric Maldoff, a leading public affairs lawyer and long-time language rights advocate. Maldoff interprets Bill 96 as actually stating what Premier Legault said. And Maldoff repeated that this could disqualify between 300,000 and 500,000 English speakers in the province. “It says that the provider has an option to provide services in English in certain limited number of circumstances. And even when they do, they should do everything possible not to be providing services in English – and when they do, it shouldn’t be systematic,” Maldoff explained.
Bilingual institutions like the Jewish General Hospital and the MUHC are excluded from that, but the concern is for those English speakers who don’t live near those facilities. And those hospitals themselves now fear for their future as bilingual institutions because, under the Bill, anyone can complain anonymously to the OQLF, and that agency has the power to go into any premises — even hospitals — and search and seize computers, electronic devices, phones without a warrant, without probable cause.
M.Dubé, it’s time to close your government’s credibility gap since your colleagues won’t. Non-Francophones are not the problem. Your government’s bad law is.
Beryl Wajsman is the editor of The Suburban, where this editorial first appeared. Reprinted with permission.