English signs must be taken down in Gaspé hospitals, language watchdog rules

The regional health centre in Gaspé has been ordered to take down bilingual signs inside its buildings.

OQLF says half the population must be anglophone to justify bilingual signs

Information for patients' health and safety can still be posted in English at Gaspé hospitals, but not direction signs. (Martin Toulgoat/Radio-Canada)

The regional health centre in Gaspé has been ordered to take down some bilingual signs inside its buildings.

The order was given by the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF), which visited a Gaspé hospital over the summer and sent the notice to the Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux  (CISSS) de Gaspésie.

OQLF Spokesperson Jean-Pierre Leblanc says English speakers have to make up 50 per cent of the total population for signs in both French and English to be allowed.

"When this is not the case, they're not recognized and they have to go according to the law," Leblanc said.

According to Leblanc, Bill 101 allows health and safety information to be posted in both languages, such as signs asking people to wash their hands. But signs giving directions to examining rooms for example, will be taken down.

Bilingual service was common practice

The CISSS says providing service in both English and French has been a common practice for years. But spokesperson Geneviève Cloutier says they have little choice but to respect the law.

"This doesn't mean that people will stop receiving services in English. The colour code we have (which identifies bilingual staff with yellow badges) will remain in place," she said.

Cloutier says the hospital will make sure added personnel will be assigned to welcome people at the front desk.

Concern for seniors

About 14 per cent of patients are anglophone at the hospital in Gaspé, the Centre de santé et de services sociaux de la Côte-de-Gaspé. Most of them are seniors. In some parts of the peninsula, like nearby Barachois, the majority are English speakers.

Bernice Vibert, who works at the general store in Barachois, is worried that seniors won't be able to find their way inside the hospital.

"The hospital is a public place and everyone should be served in their language. To respect people, the English signs should stay up," Vibert said.

She says customers have told her they don't understand why the language debate is still an issue.

"What does it hurt to have those people served in English and their papers written in English? There's nothing wrong with that," she said.