Montreal

CAQ MNA promises action on Lachute hospital signage, walks back comments 17 hours later

Premier François Legault's point man on relations with English-speaking Quebecers appears to have broken rank on Thursday night, saying he's working privately to resolve a language dispute at the Lachute hospital. He softened those remarks today.

Premier François Legault said he won't protect English signage, but his MNA said differently

Laval MNA Christopher Skeete's official title is parliamentary assistant to the premier for relations with English-speaking Quebecers. (CBC)

Premier François Legault's point man on relations with English-speaking Quebecers appears to have broken rank on Thursday night, saying he's working privately to resolve a language dispute at the Lachute hospital.

MNA Christopher Skeete wrote on Twitter that he has been in contact with the health and culture ministers offices and suggested those concerned should "stay tuned."

"The (premier) is correct that we must respect our laws, but healthcare is a different ball game," Skeete said.

"Especially in areas like Lachute where we have a 17 per cent English-speaking population."

Quebec's language watchdog ordered the hospital last month to remove the English signs that say "emergency" and "parking" around the hospital, prompting outcry from local mayors.

Earlier Thursday, Legault said he would not protect the English signs, explaining that "Bill 101 must be protected."

Skeete was unavailable for an interview on Friday, but confirmed via statement that he's spoken with the relevant ministries.

However, the statement, issued 17 hours after his tweet, did not include any promises of future action to reinstate the signs.

"Our government is committed to respecting existing language legislation as well as guaranteeing access to health services for all Quebecers, including English-speaking Quebecers," the statement said.

Mayors decry move

Local mayors in the western Laurentians have spoken out against the decision to remove the English signs.

Nine mayors sent a letter to the regional health authority asking them to reconsider.

In Quebec, public institutions must have signage exclusively in French, unless they give the majority of their services in English.

Because Lachute offers most of its services in French, the language watchdog — known by its French acronym, the OQLF — said it must scrub the English from its signs.

But a group that represents English-speaking Quebecers believes the OQLF overstepped its authority.

Geoffrey Chambers, president of the Quebec Community Groups Network, said hospital signage falls under the umbrella of health services and English-speaking Quebecers have the right to health services in English.

"It's senseless to argue that you have access to health and social services in English if you do not know where the services are located," Chambers said in a news release.

"Not to have clear signage is an obstacle to services. If you cannot find the service, it is not available to you."

He is asking the regional health authority to reconsider its decision to remove the English signs.

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