Skip to main content

RAMQ must serve certain users in English, French language ministry confirms

Share

Quebec's French Language Ministry says the provincial health insurance board is required to serve certain users in English.

Jean-François Roberge's office promised to follow up with the Régie de l'assurance maladie du Québec (RAMQ) after a worker allegedly hung up on a woman because she didn't speak French.

Susan Starkey, 75, said she called RAMQ earlier this month to inquire about her husband's coverage. But the worker on the line allegedly refused to speak to her in English and told her to "go find somebody" before reportedly ending the call.

Her story, first reported by Montreal Gazette, sparked outrage online, with critics accusing the Quebec government of violating its promise to maintain English health services for anglophones.

But as the RAMQ told the Gazette, its functions are "not considered as part of the services offered by the health network," implying exemption from said promise.

"We must conform with the dispositions of Bill 96. In keeping with the new articles of the Charte de la langue française, ministries and government organizations, including the RAMQ, must exhibit the exemplary use of French," RAMQ's statement continued.

This latter point refers to language law provisions adopted in June of 2023, which require all communication between civil administration and the public to occur in French.

But there are exceptions to this rule, as outlined by the French Language Ministry in an email to CTV News.

A government entity "may continue to communicate in English with a person with whom it corresponded in English prior to the introduction of the proposed Act respecting the official and common language of Quebec, French [Bill 96], on May 13, 2021," the statement reads.

In other words, if you communicated with the government in English before Bill 96 was introduced in May of 2021, you can continue doing so.

Starkey fits into this category: originally from Alberta, she says she's been living in Quebec for the past 50 years, currently residing in Montreal's West Island.

"If the person in question [...] has corresponded for many years in English with the RAMQ or is one of the persons declared eligible to receive English instruction under the Charter, he or she may receive services in English from this organization," the ministry's statement reiterated.

Other exemptions include Indigenous people, newcomers who have been in Quebec for less than six months, and people eligible to receive English education.

For its part, Quebec’s Ministry of Health and Social Services says that institutions are “mandated in whole or in part” to ensure English-speaking people can receive the health and social services they need.

“Anyone who feels that their rights have not been respected in a network facility may file a complaint with the local service quality and complaints commissioner,” a ministry spokesperson said in a statement.

The RAMQ has yet to respond to multiple requests for comments from CTV News.

'SALT IN THE WOUND'

Susan Starkey's husband, who is 82, has several health complications and uses a feeding tube. Starkey spoke to CTV News on the condition of using her maiden name to protect his privacy.

She said that when she called the RAMQ in early July, it was to figure out why her husband's tube-feeding formula was no longer covered under their insurance.

But a RAMQ worker allegedly insisted she speak French, despite being fluent in English himself, Starkey claimed.

"I said, 'I'm sorry, my French isn't good enough for you to understand [me] or for me to understand you because this is complicated.' And he said, 'I don't have to speak to you in English.' I said, 'I'm afraid I can't do it in French,' and he said, 'Go and find somebody,'" she recalled.

"But this man just said, 'I don't have to do this. Bye!' But he didn't say bye, he just went 'click.'"

Starkey said the experience was degrading.

"He made me feel like a second-class citizen," she described, adding that "his perfect English was the salt in the wound."

The Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN), which advocates for Anglophone rights in the province, said it's heard anecdotal evidence that more incidents like this are happening since changes to Bill 96 came into effect.

"As we've seen since June 1 more and more incidents of egregious effects on English speaking Quebecers," said QCGN director Sylvia Martin-Laforge. "We're not surprised."

With files from CTV's Joe Lofaro and Olivia O'Malley.  

CTVNews.ca Top Stories

OPINION

OPINION Where are the Prince and Princess of Wales?

What is the mysterious reason that caused Prince William to miss his own godfather's memorial service? And why is the Princess of Wales conspicuously absent? CTV News royal commentator Afua Hagan shares her thoughts.

Stay Connected