Montreal couple angry after French-only SQ emergency call
Sûreté du Québec doesn't require its dispatchers to speak English, spokersperson says
A Montreal couple have complained to Quebec's police ethics board after a Sûreté du Québec dispatcher was unable to speak English during an emergency phone call.
Frank Gaudio and his fiancée Tracy Engstrom, who is eight months pregnant, were involved in a car crash earlier this month at the Dorval exit of Highway 20.
The couple were unharmed, and Gaudio went to check on the driver of the other vehicle while Engstrom dialled 911.
When he returned, Engstrom was growing increasingly frustrated with the provincial police dispatcher to whom she had been transferred.
I felt degraded, as if I was doing something wrong, and I still feel that way.- Tracy Engstrom
Engstrom, who is originally from the U.S. and does not speak French fluently, says the dispatcher was unable to speak English and was rude.
"I was saying, 'I'm pregnant, I've been in a car accident, I'm pregnant. Please come here,'" Engstrom recalled.
Gaudio took over the phone call and gave the couple's location, and the two were taken off in an ambulance.
But Engstrom is worried about what would have happened if Gaudio wasn't there.
"I felt degraded, as if I was doing something wrong, and I still feel that way. I feel like I'm going to be inadequate for my Quebec child. I'm haunted by it. What if Frank wasn't there, what if it was me and my baby? I'm feeling very vulnerable," said Engstrom.
Gaudio feels English-language service is essential.
"This happened in the West Island, near an international airport. My fiancée has taken a French class, but in an emergency situation, you're going to default," he said.
No English-language requirement for dispatchers
Sûreté du Québec dispatchers aren't required to speak English, said spokesperson Mélanie Dumaresq.
"At the SQ, all our employees, in their work, speak French, because it's the language of the province. When they hire dispatchers, it's not an obligation for them to speak English."
But Dumaresq said it's often possible to find a dispatcher on shift who does speak English, or to transfer the emergency call to another SQ call centre where an English-speaking dispatcher may be available.