"A healthy English-speaking community in a secure French-speaking Quebec.
A strong Quebec in a united Canada."
West Quebecers Report
This is a brief report on the action West Quebecers took after receiving complaints this past spring about the refusal of staff of the Commission de la Santé et de la Sécurité au Travail (CSST) to speak English with anglophone employers.
On May 5, 2010, West Quebecers received a complaint from Ms. Jennifer Hodgins concerning the refusal of the CSST staff to speak English to her when she asked for an explanation of a document she had received from them. Soon after West Quebecers received other complaints on this subject, including a letter from Mr. James Gibson, the Mayor of Rapides des Joachims, an English-speaking town on the upper Ottawa. From the Mayor's letter to West Quebecers, it was clear that business people in that town were experiencing the same problem as Ms. Hodgins. The CSST is a government agency responsible for work health and safety. A telephone call we made to the agency appeared to confirm that it was no longer possible to use English when contacting its staff.
We wrote to the Minister to whom the CSST reports, namely, Mr. Sam Hamad, Minister of Employment and Social Solidarity, copying our letter to all the Members of the Assembly representing the constituencies of this region. All their offices acknowledged receipt and the letter to the Minister was then placed on the West Quebecers' web site.
Towards the end of June we received a reply to our letter, over the signature of Carole Théberge, Vice-President, Administration, Communications and Public Relations at the CSST. This letter, attached with a translation, makes three points:
- The only change in policy, as of April 26 last, is that the option "for English press 9" has been removed from the interactive telephone response system.
- The language of work in Quebec is French. However, current language policy permits communication in English when necessary.
- The CSST web site has a section in English explaining how the agency operates and what services it offers.
The Vice-President's letter appeared to contradict what we had been told by Ms. Hodgins and the Mayor of Rapides des Joachims and what we had learned from our own telephone conversations with the CSST. We pursued our enquiries and were able to discuss the matter with the CSST officer who is responsible for the application of language policy in the organization. Here is how she clarified the situation:
- It is permissible for an employee of the CSST to speak English with an employer if the employer has difficulties using French. She believes that after April 26, 2010 some employees got the erroneous impression that they could not use English at all.
- There is no guarantee of service in English. French is the language of work and employees of the CSST are not required to be bilingual.
- Written communication with businesses in English is not permitted.
- The removal of the "press 9 for English option" was effected following a request from the Office québécois de la langue française, based on the principle that French is the language of work.
The officer recognized the importance of English-speaking employers being able to understand the regulations and requirements relating to work health and safety, and invited us to contact her again if further problems are reported.
On behalf of the Regional Association of West Quebecers
N. F.W. Gates
Do We Care Anymore?
The Regional Association of West Quebecers (RAWQ) is a not-for-profit association dedicated to serving the minority English-speaking communities in the Outaouais. Over many years, West Quebecers has been very successful in developing numerous programs in the areas of Health and Social Services, Community Economic Development, Arts and Culture, Youth and Education, all of which are in support of the English-speaking communities (ESC) in the Outaouais. West Quebecers has also played a strong advocacy role in seeking to improve the level of municipal and provincial government services in English.
It is important to note that in the Outaouais region there are over 58,000 English-speaking citizens representing more than 16% of the entire population. It is estimated that half of this population is unilingual English. If present policies continue, especially in the City of Gatineau, this group, in particular, faces a serious threat of marginalization. As members of an English-speaking community (ESC), the questions we need to ask ourselves are: Do we care if the ESC is ill-served? And, more broadly, do we care if our existence as a viable community is inadequately recognized by public authorities and private business?
In an earlier West Quebecers document written by John E. Trent, a former President of RAWQ, it was pointed out that minorities must always be organized and tough enough to demand their rights. Trent also emphasized that majorities just take their dominant position for granted and steam-roll over minorities who are asleep at the switch.
Recently, the question the West Quebecers Board of Directors has been considering is whether our communities are, indeed, asleep at the switch or have just thrown in the towel. Indications are that the situation is probably a little bit of both.
In today's world with so many demands on everyone's time, and as with many other volunteer organizations, it has been a challenge over the past few years for West Quebecers to bring the desired number of individuals together to join its Board of Directors or its working committees. These committees remain seriously under strength.
The Board is concerned that active membership and support of West Quebecers events is declining at a time when we are faced with an erosion of English-language services from various levels of government. A classic example of this is the apparent indifference to the West Quebecers annual Community Awards Banquet. This event celebrates valuable and inspirational volunteer contributions to the vitality and strength of our communities in the Outaouais. We should be beating the drums for these dedicated volunteers who have greatly enhanced their communities. This is an event that justifies unqualified support. Where is our community pride in the wonderful work being accomplished by individuals or groups who care about the well-being of our English-speaking community?
There are members of the ESC who feel that West Quebecers is not playing a strong enough role in defending English-speaking citizens' rights, both from a government and a local business perspective. West Quebecers Board members will readily admit that more can be done, but not without more participants. For people who feel West Quebecers needs to be more proactive in certain fields, the opportunity is there. There is room on the Board of Directors or on one of West Quebecers' working groups for concerned citizens. We would welcome your participation and support in meeting the many challenges we face.
That being said, even with its stretched resources, West Quebecers does continue to move forward. Visitors to our website (www.westquebecers.ca) will see how it serves as an information hub for the English-speaking communities of the City of Gatineau, the Gatineau Valley, and the Pontiac. The ongoing objective of West Quebecers is to continuously upgrade this service so that it functions as an efficient link between these communities and keeps them informed regarding matters of concern to them, and also regarding the services provided to the English-speaking communities by the Association.
We continue to watch for opportunities to improve the provision of services in English and to bring these matters to the attention of appropriate authorities. At the same time, we continue to build partnerships with other community groups and sector networks which have a common interest in projects that benefit the English-speaking communities. We will continue to distribute information about access to services for new English-speaking residents, and to refer people with questions about services to the proper sources of information. We continue to maintain our series of workshops of public interest and our projects aimed at giving young people skills which will help them to enter the workplace and to find their niche in Quebec society.
All this work requires a base of active people who are willing to advance West Quebecers' agenda of service to the English-speaking communities. The Board of Directors needs to renew itself as existing long-standing board members retire. We believe that our English-speaking communities are alive and viable and deserve to be recognized in the Quebec fabric. There is room on the West Quebecers Board of Directors for people who believe that the interests of the English-speaking community are worth protecting and advancing and who are willing to spare some of their time to protect and advance the interests of the English-speaking communities in the Outaouais.
We are issuing this call to people of the Outaouais to consider serving on our Board of Directors for the year June 2010/2011. We invite you to contact our office at 819.682.9602 to obtain further information. If you would like to participate in our very worthwhile activities, or volunteer on a committee, we want to hear from you.
We ask you to give your name, address and some information about yourself to
Executive Director, Heather Stronach
The Regional Association of West Quebecers
181 rue Principale, Unit A-11, Gatineau (Aylmer) QC J9H 3K9
Tel: 819.682.9602 Toll Free: 1.877.733.0177
Web site: wwww.estquebecers.ca