Doctors and other health-care advocates in Quebec say they are worried about the implications for health and social services under Bill 96.
They say not only will it put care for some people at risk, they fear the bill will create divisions and cause the quality of health care to decline.
“Whether it’s services provided by doctors and nurses or social workers, which are the main professionals which see large volumes of people,” explained Dr. Juan Carlos Chirgwin, a family physician at the CLSC Parc-Extension.
Eric Maldoff, chair of the organization Quality Care and Social Services, agrees.
“Very simply, if there is not effective communication there is a much higher risk of injury and even death of patients and clients,” he told Global News.
Under Bill 96, public service providers would be required to communicate exclusively in French. Immigrants who’ve lived in the province for less than six months or people who went to school in English in the province would be exempted.
Hospitals like the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC), the Jewish General and the Montreal General are also excluded.
Those against the bill point out that up until now staff and patients have been free to choose how to communicate with each other.
“Now the government is purporting to dictate how they communicate,” argued Maldoff.
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But according to justice minister Simon Jolin-Barette, there’s nothing to worry about.
“Everybody will be able to be served in French or in English for health,” he insisted.
Quebec Liberal MNA and opposition mental health critic David Birnbaum pushed back saying that the statement is misleading since the bill will make it harder to access health-care in English, and even limit an institution’s ability to employ staff who can talk to clients so they understand.
“It will put numerous obstacles in the way of health-care institutions who need to hire practitioners,” he pointed out.
Chirgwin shares Birnbaum’s concern and pointed to interpreters at CLSC Parc-Extension, in an area with a high number of people who don’t speak English or French fluently.
“I’m worried that the budget for these interpreter services will be cut,” he said.
He also expressed consternation that patients who don’t speak French fluently will be made to feel excluded.
Yet another concern is the use of the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF), the province’s language watchdog, to enforce the law and how the atmosphere could change in workplaces.
“Where it won’t be focused on good service to people and caring, but rather be monitoring, surveillance and penalties,” Chirgwin stressed.
Bill 96 entered the final stage of adoption on Thursday.
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