Nova Scotia

French language banned in office: N.S. man

A Nova Scotia man says a Service Canada office in Kentville won't offer services in French even though it can.

Service Canada denies ban

A Nova Scotia man says a Service Canada office in Kentville won't offer services in French even though it can.

Dean Snelling says he got a surprise when he sought help filling out some documents in French.

Snelling worked in Switzerland for 15 years. He received pension documents last fall, and since Canada and Switzerland have an international agreement on pensions, he turned to Service Canada for help.

"I can converse for simple conversations. But for important things I needed help to decipher what I needed to know," said Snelling.

Snelling, who runs a seniors home in Middleton, decided to speak in French when he heard the clerk speak in English with a French accent.

"I said, 'Oh, wonderful. You speak French, you can help me.' And she said, 'Oh, no, I cannot help you [because] I'm not allowed to speak French here. This is an English only office.'"

Radio-Canada took a hidden microphone into the Service Canada office and confirmed Snelling's story.

John Leger, with the Acadian Federation of Nova Scotia, is outraged.

"Why are they afraid to surpass expectations? That's bizarre. They are capable of offering French services, but they don't want to," he told CBC News in French.

Michel Doucet, a lawyer who has defended language rights for nearly 30 years, said this is not illegal.

However, he told Radio-Canada, the spirit of the language law is broken.

In an email to Radio-Canada Tuesday, Service Canada said there are no rules in place banning workers from speaking a second language in a unilingual office.

Employees may speak a second language if they can do so clearly and precisely, the email said.