For quite some time I have been pushing the issue of language on signs, websites and social media within the public safety departments and agencies in the Quebec government as well as in the City of Montreal.
Recently, I noticed that Urgences Santé (the provincially mandated Montreal and Laval ambulance service, where I worked as an ambulance technician for 18 years) launched a new website and has taken to Tweeting. This is terrific and to be commended.
A major problem that I’ve discovered though, is that their new site doesn’t have a word of English. Rien de tout. Quite incredible for a major emergency operation serving over a million people, many of whom are English-speaking.
Furthermore, Urgences Santé policy, similar to the Quebec Police Force (SQ), is to tweet in French only, unless they consider the situation to be an emergency. There is a fundamental problem with this misguided policy when they consider an emergency situation message as being appropriate to be conveyed in both languages however messages promoting public safety (and not an immediate emergency) cannot be in English. This is plain wrong. It is dangerous.
In responding to my request for them to tweet in English Urgences Santé cites Bill 101. However, the Charter of the French Language, Section 22, allows for use of another language when it comes to “health and public safety”.
Therefore, once again, this public body, whose mandate is indeed health and public safety, refuses to communicate in a language other than French, for the purpose of educating the public in matters of health and safety. This makes no sense. It is a dangerous practice and a narrow view of the language law.
Of course, the reach of the Charter into social and digital media is in and of itself questionable as to jurisdiction but we’ll leave that argument aside for now.
Emergency medical services and public safety matters are very important to me. So too is the notion of the Quebec Government showing respect to the English-speaking population.
In the last months I have communicated with the communication policy at Urgences Santé, Transports Quebec, Hydro Quebec and the Quebec Police Force. All these agencies hide behind a very narrow interpretation of the French language charter. This must change. I have called upon D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum to help in these matters and appreciate whatever assistance he will bring to these issues with the goal of attaining more effective safety-related communications for Quebecers of both language groups.