Saskatchewan

'English only' policy at Dollarama shocks and appalls Regina customer

Regina man Jay Bercades was shocked when he saw a manager tell her employees, who were talking in Tagalog amongst themselves, to speak English only.

Jay Bercades felt morally compelled to speak out about what he witnessed

Jay Bercades felt morally obliged to draw attention to a situation he witnessed at Dollarama in Regina. (Matt Howard/CBC)

Jay Bercades couldn't sleep. He couldn't shake the feeling that the interaction he witnessed between employees at the Dollarama in south Regina was wrong. 

"One of the ladies was referring sternly to the other ladies. I overheard her talking, sternly telling them to speak in 'English only, English only,'" Bercades said.

"The three other ladies were talking in a different language which I am aware of as Tagalog or Filipino."

He said the situation, which happened Sunday while he was shopping for garden tools, caught his attention because of the manner and tone, which he described as reprimanding. Bercades said he spoke with the three women who were speaking Tagalog and then the woman who said "English only," who he said identified herself as their manager. 

"I called her attention and told her that I don't think what she did was right. Well, she came back to me by saying 'it's the rules,'" he said. "What was alarming to me is that they may have a policy in place." 

Dollarama confirmed the policy. 

"We do ask our employees to speak English on the sales floor to ensure clear communications between team members and with customers," said Lyla Radmanovich, a spokeswoman for Dollarama, in an email. Radamonvich did not make someone from the company available for an interview. 

Radmanovich said this doesn't apply to employees off-shift and said employees who have concerns should contact their human resources representative.  

Reprimanding a group of workers for speaking in their native language when [they're]  not even dealing with customers is appalling.- Lori Johb

Bercades said the company should take another look at the policy. 

"I think, as a growing company, they should look into their policies and acknowledge and recognize the diversity of their employees," he said.

Bercades says language in the workplace should revolve around communication ethics. Speaking in whatever language is appropriate to the situation. (Matt Howard/CBC)

Bercades said he reached out to media because he remembered reading about a similar "English only" incident from 2017 that led to KFC Canada issuing an apology and condemning a franchisee's actions after a memo directing employees to speak English only.  

He said he "couldn't look the other way" and felt morally compelled to speak up. 

SFL president says policy 'appalling'

Lori Johb, president of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, said she was surprised and shocked to learn that a company would have such a policy in 2020. 

"To me it's a very racist policy, and it does not in any way appeal to the people of Saskatchewan," she said. "Reprimanding a group of workers for speaking in their native language when [they're] not even dealing with customers is appalling."

Johb said some employees who immigrate to the province may feel more comfortable speaking among themselves in their first language, while also feeling a sense of community. 

"Not allowing people to speak with their peers in their native language goes against that sense of community. I think we need to be a lot more open to that."

A spokesperson for Dollarama says the company asks that 'employees speak English while on the sales floor to promote inclusiveness of the store team.' (Matt Howard/CBC)

Bercades said people in all workplaces should abide by "communication ethics," meaning the language spoken is appropriate for the situation and those involved in the conversation.   

He said there is nothing wrong with people chatting in their own language, especially if it's about work. 

The number of Tagalog speakers in Saskatchewan has steadily climbed, rising 123 per cent in 2016 compared to 2011, according to Statistics Canada. 

Bercades speaks Tagalog, like thousands of other Saskatchewanians, and came to Regina six years ago. He said it was his understanding that the ladies were having a conversation with each other about work-related issues. 

"I encourage Filipinos and any other immigrants to communicate primarily in English if necessary or as necessary, but that should not stop them from communicating through their native tongue as also appropriate." 

The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code does not include language as a prohibited ground, according to a spokesperson for the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission. 

"However, language may be related to other prohibited grounds such as ancestry, place of origin, nationality, or race in such a way that may give rise to a complaint under the code."

About the Author

Kendall Latimer

Journalist

Kendall Latimer has shared compelling stories, photos, audio and video with CBC Saskatchewan since 2016. She loves a good yarn and is always open to chat: kendall.latimer@cbc.ca.