Longueuil councillor calls for better access to municipal website after English-language pages removed
MONTREAL -- When Peter Doonan recently scrolled through the Longueuil municipal website, he said he was surprised to see all of the English-language pages were missing.
The borough councillor for Greenfield Park and some of his colleagues had been calling for improvements to the site because he said the new version of the website contained numerous broken links, and not all of the sections contained English translations.
Changing the site to unilingual French wasn’t what they had in mind.
“We were blindsided. We didn’t know about it until it happened,” he said.
While he doesn’t understand why the city would remove the English pages that were already online, he said he’s mostly worried that during a pandemic, anglophone or allophone residents could end up missing important information.
“We add COVID-19 to this whole mix, we can’t or shouldn’t be going out to find these services. These services have to be top-notch now at our city’s websites so they are easily accessible," said Doonan.
Longueuil resident Jose Pita discovered English was missing from the city’s website a few weeks ago while searching for winter parking restrictions.
He said he has enough of an understanding of written French that he was able to figure it out, but worries about others, especially elderly residents, who do not.
“It’s a question of respect. It’s a question of access to information,” he said. “If you’re a minority without a working knowledge of written French, why can’t there be a place to make sure you understand what they want you to do?”
Municipalities are granted bilingual status in Quebec if more than half their population declares English as their mother tongue -- requiring that municipality to make all signage and public information available in both languages. Longueuil doesn't qualify.
According to the 2016 census data, about six per cent of Longueuil residents are anglophone and 15 per cent are allophone.
Doonan said the number of people whose mother tongue is a language other than French or English is closer to 20 per cent today, and within his borough, close to 35 per cent of residents identify as anglophone.
Doonan said when he started pushing for more English on the site three years ago, he was met with ‘grumblings’ at the city administration about the cost and effort of translating so much text.
“We wanted better access,” he said. “I’m from the technology industry to begin with and it blows my mind we aren’t using the website (to the best of its abilities).”
Today, the website features a ‘language’ tab, which opens to a disclaimer, in French, that explains the website is now in French only, in accordance with the Quebec’s French-language charter.
A spokesperson for the City of Longueuil, Carl Boisvert, told CTV News in an email “the layout and information architecture of the new website is completely different from the old site. It was not possible to copy and paste old pages to the new site, as the two are incompatible.”
He also pointed to the French-language charter, and explained providing pages of the website in English, “is not an obligation, except for our communications when the health and safety of citizens are at stake.”
According to language watchdog the Office québécois de la langue francaise (OQLF), all municipalities in Quebec must write and publish their texts and documents, including websites, in French. However, a municipality can choose to add an English version to its website, a spokesperson confirmed.
Boivert says a working committee, that included elected officials from Greenfield Park, agreed to develop a unilingual French-speaking website. He also pointed out that the language tab on the new site provides instructions on how to translate the website using online tools such as Google Translate.
The instructions, however, are in French only, which Doonan argues is illogical.
“If you’re going to instruct people, instruct them in their language. We’re not going to try to change culture here in Quebec and in Longueuil, we’re just trying to get access to information.”