The majority of English-speaking Quebecers say they have access to government services in their mother tongue, a CBC commissioned EKOS poll has found.
But that doesn’t mean there’s isn’t room for improvement when it comes to certain services, according to some anglophones in Montreal.
Of the 1,001 anglophone Quebecers polled, 57 per cent agreed that they have access to government services in English. Twenty-eight per cent disagreed.
The results were similar when it came to those who agreed they should insist on getting served in English in their everyday life, but only for those who identified themselves as lifetime Quebec residents.
When it came to people who moved to Quebec from outside the province, fewer said they should insist on English service in their day-to-day lives.
Clarence Vandergeest wasn't born in the province, but has lived here for sometime. He speaks little French and believes that he has the right to be served in English.
That became a problem last summer when he walked into the Atwater Metro station and his Opus card didn’t work.
He asked for help, in English, but says he was ignored. An agent finally asked if he spoke French. When he indicated he did not, the agent continued in French anyway.
"There was a homeless guy behind me who said, ‘Excuse me sir, can I help you? I’m bilingual.’ I said ‘No, that shouldn’t be necessary. I deserve to be served in my language.’"
The STM eventually apologized for the incident after Vandergeest went to the media.
Official language policy
According to the government’s official policy on the use of French in the public service, preference is given to unilingual French to "emphasize the fact that French is both the official language and the normal, everyday language" of the province.
However, in certain government institutions, like the Société de l'assurance automobile du Québec and the Régie de l'assurance maladie du Québec, you can ask to be served in English.
CBC reporter Sean Henry went to government offices in Montreal, including the SAAQ and the RAMQ, to see how difficult it was to access English services when transferring a drivers licence and health card from Ontario.
He found he had no trouble getting served in English at either of the offices.
A spokesman for the SAAQ said it is in the process of reviewing its language policy. They are currently waiting for approval from the Office québécois de la langue française.
At the STM, the language policy isn’t clear and has recently been a source of contention. The transit corporation is slated to discuss that policy at a board meeting in June.
But, despite some recent high-profile incidents involving tension and English service at the STM, CBC had no problem buying a bus ticket without using a word of French.
Vandergeest said he’s used the Metro several times since the incident last July without problem. He said the problem may be as much an issue of customer service as it is communication.
"If I get the feeling they refuse to accommodate me, well I can be just as stubborn as they are and I feel I don’t have to apologize."
The EKOS poll results are based on a telephone survey conducted between Jan. 15 and Jan. 23 with a random sample of 1,001 anglophone Quebecers.
The margin of error is +/- 3.1 per cent, 19 times out of 20.