Lachute-area mayors decry move to remove English signs from hospital
Health administrators say they must comply with Bill 101, but mayors say bilingual history not being respected
At the hospital in Lachute, Que., blue tape now covers the word "Parking," which used to appear beneath the sign reading "Stationnement."
You can still make out the faded words "Main Entrance" beneath "Entrée Principale," although the letters — half the size of the French ones — have recently been removed.
Last month, administrators of the hospital 80 kilometres northwest of Montreal announced they would eliminate the English signs that have been posted for years, in order to comply with Quebec's language law, Bill 101.
In the next couple of weeks, all traces of English will be taken off signs on the hospital's premises.
The move has drawn the ire of mayors in surrounding towns and villages, who say they're deeply disappointed by the decision.
The mayors, whose communities make up the regional county municipality of Argenteuil, sent a letter to the local health authority, asking it to reconsider the decision.
"I'm not impressed. Nobody's impressed. We're not impressed with the leadership," said Scott Pearce, the mayor of Gore, northeast of Lachute.
A question of priorities
Pearce said he wants to know why removing the English signs is one of the hospital's priorities — a point echoed by the mayor of neighbouring Saint-André-d'Argenteuil, Marc-Olivier Labelle.
Both mayors say the hospital's resources should go entirely toward improving patient care.
Labelle, a francophone, said the French language is not at risk of disappearing in the lower Laurentians, and it's important services be available in both official languages.
"We have a large bilingual history," said Labelle. "We try to be sure that English people can have access to these messages or information in English."
Both mayors said there is almost no friction between French-speaking and English-speaking residents in the region.
Pearce said this is the first time he's had to deal with a language issue, and he said he's been heartened by the response from francophones.
"Just seeing the French population's reaction: they're offended. They're very offended, and to me that shows who we are as a community."
Complying with Bill 101
Quebec's language law requires hospitals that don't offer services predominantly in English to post signs exclusively in French.
Myriam Sabourin, the spokesperson for the regional health authority, the CISSS-des-Laurentides, said the Office québécois de la langue française told the hospital it needed to change its signs last month.
"They explained that we have to respect the law," she said.
Sabourin said she wants to reassure patients that hospital services will still be available in English.
"It's only the signage that will change. All the services will be in French or English, if the people ask for them," she said.
She added that they're planning on changing the signage soon anyway, so they're taking advantage of this opportunity to remove the English.
In November, the MRC d'Argenteuil's mayors passed a resolution in support of Franco-Ontarians, after Ontario Premier Doug Ford cut services to francophones in the province.
In the resolution, the MRC said it is committed to respecting the rights of linguistic minorities.
Pearce says the hospital's decision to remove English signs is also an attack on a linguistic minority, and it should be reversed.