Does the SQ value language over life?

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On January 21, a 14-year-old boy from L’Isle-aux-Allumettes was reported missing. The press release issued by the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) said that the family had reason to fear for the boy’s health and safety. The SQ responded to the boy’s disappearance by sending out a press release and making a Facebook post – in French, only. The boy is from Chapeau, a predominantly English-speaking community, and was believed to be in either Pembroke, where he was last seen, or in L’Isle-aux-Allumettes.

Fortunately, the story has a happy end, as the boy was found safe and sound the next morning in Pembroke. But what was not so happy, was the SQ’s callous and negligent handling of communications surrounding the boy’s disappearance. L’Isle-aux-Allumettes and Pembroke, where the boy was believed to be located, are both English-speaking communities. If the safety of the missing child was truly the priority, there is no justifiable reason to fail to provide the information to those communities in English.

One citizen submitted a suggestion to the SQ online, requesting that the information regarding the boy’s disappearance also be posted in English, given its importance. The citizen received a canned response from the SQ citing the Charter of the French Language and government policy:

“We must promote the sole use of French in our activities, including electronic communications with the public… French is both the official and most common language of public life in Quebec.”

What the ice-veined, SQ bureaucrat who wrote this response fails to acknowledge is the reality that French is NOT the “most common language of public life” in L’Isle-aux-Allumettes or Pembroke. Is the disappearance of a child from an English-speaking community the most appropriate time to prioritize “the promotion of the sole use of the French language”? Where is the humanity in this approach? I’m certain that the SQ author of this response would tell us that they “must follow the law… just following orders… just doing my job!” But how does that justify the failure to do what’s right in the situation?  The SQ would not have broken the law or harmed the health of the French language in Quebec by posting the information in French first, followed by English, but they may have helped locate the child faster.

Quebeçois culture and language are absolutely worth defending and preserving. But there is a time, and a place, and a way to go about it – with common sense and humanity. Promote francization by making it more accessible to both newcomers and historic Quebec anglophones alike. Or invest more heavily in French programs in English schools, for example. Failing to provide information to the anglophone community during an emergency only breeds resentment. It certainly won’t encourage anyone to learn or use French.