December 1, 2023

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Bill 96 sparks fears about access to health care in English – Montreal

Two weeks ago Shab Shattah, 71, had bypass surgery at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal.

“As nervous as I was about the surgery, I felt comfortable that people were concerned and I was able to communicate with everyone in English,” Shattah said.

But with the passing of Bill 96, the experience made him fear that he and others may not always have guaranteed access to English services during an emergency.

“When you have other people deciding your future, or your life, you want to know it exactly,” Shattah said.

Bill 96 is Quebec’s French language reform.

Many have argued that it wouldn’t change the rights of English-speaking Quebecers.

Read more:

Bill 96 — Quebec premier says health care will remain the same for anglophones, immigrants

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The premier’s office doubled down on that message when reached by Global News.

But Eric Maldoff, a lawyer and chair of the Coalition for Quality in Health and Social Services, says the fears anglophones feel are, in part, justified.

He says one of the issues with Bill 96 is that the law discourages medical practitioners from serving people in a language other than French.

“This law is a vigilante law, anybody can turn you in to the Office Quebecoise de Langue Francaise with a complaint, which can lead to possible fines,” Maldoff says.

A study published earlier this month by the Canadian Medical Association shows the language you receive health care in makes a big difference.

It found that patients who received most of their care from physicians who spoke the patients’ primary language had better in-hospital outcomes, “suggesting that disparities across linguistic groups could be mitigated by providing patients with language-concordant care,” the study reported.

Read more:

Health-care and English-language rights advocates stress danger of Bill 96

Maldoff and the coalition he represents are calling for health and social services to be exempt from Bill 96.

But not everyone shares the same degree of concern.

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“The principles of the law have not changed. The access to anglophones is still guaranteed by the health and social services law, so we are not preoccupied,” said Paul Brunet, head of the Quebec Council for the Protection of Patients.

“As soon as they have problems getting health care in their language, English or French, let us know, we’ll fight for you.”

Meanwhile, Shattah has written a letter to Premier François Legault because he wants the government to legally guarantee in Bill 96 that he and others can continue to receive services in English, so he never finds himself in a situation where critical questions surrounding his health and his life could be lost in translation.

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