Trudeau apologizes to anglophone woman for answering in French at Sherbrooke town hall

Justin Trudeau has apologized for answering an English question in French at his Sherbrooke town hall meeting in January.

PM offers 'sincere regrets' in phone call to Judy Ross and letter to English-language advocacy group

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during the town hall meeting in Sherbrooke, Que. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has apologized for his refusal to answer a question in English when asked specifically about English mental health services at his town hall meeting in Sherbrooke, Que., last month.

Trudeau has since called the woman he replied to in French at the meeting to offer his apologies.

He also wrote a letter to an English-language advocacy group, the Quebec Community Groups Network, saying he is committed to the English-language minority in Quebec. 

At the town hall meeting in January, Judy Ross, one of the founders of Mental Health Estrie, asked in English what would be done to help anglophone Quebecers seeking mental health services when those services are only available in French.

"Thank you for your use of both official languages," Trudeau replied in French.

"But we're in a French province, so I will answer in French," he answered.

He called Ross this month to personally apologize for not answering her question in English.

Judy Ross is one of the founders of Mental Health Estrie, a service that helps anglophones navigate the public health system. Trudeau called her to apologize for answering her in French. (Claude Rivest/CBC)

According to Ross, he told her he made a mistake and said it was a learning opportunity for him.

"You don't often hear a politician say, 'I made a mistake,' and I really admire him for that," Ross told CBC News.

She said the phone call gave her the opportunity to speak with him further about access to health services for anglophones in the area.

Commitment to bilingualism

In Trudeau's letter to the advocacy group, he reiterates the importance of bilingualism in Canada and wrote, ​"I would like to express my sincere regrets." 

"My personal commitment to the rights of the English-language minority community in Quebec and French language minority communities outside Quebec is unequivocal," he writes.

"As for the Sherbrooke town hall, I would like to express my sincere regrets."

"Canada is a bilingual country, and as such, I recognize that I should have answered questions in the language they were asked, be it in Quebec or anywhere in Canada."

'Commitment to move forward'

James Shea, the president of the Quebec Community Groups Network, said he was happy to receive the letter.

"I was very pleased. It was a very positive letter," he told CBC News.

"He was contrite in the reality that he had erred in his judgment, and it's very positive in the commitment to move forward."

A spokesman for the office of the federal official languages commissioner confirms the commissioner received roughly 60 complaints regarding the town hall in Sherbrooke.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's letter to the Quebec Community Groups Network:

Mobile users: View the document
(PDF KB)
(Text KB)
CBC is not responsible for 3rd party content

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.