A Matter of decency: Does Montreal need a Birmingham Bus boycott to get the point across?

By Beryl Wajsman on October 30, 2012


And here we go again! Another incident with a subway ticket taker insulting a customer on language. This time it ended in a fight with possible assault charges against the STM employee.

Mina Barak said the incident occurred at the De La Savane métro station (in a predominantly English part of town) when an Opus machine took her money but did not provide transit tickets. When she spoke to the STM employee in the ticket booth in English, harsh words were exchanged. The employee allegedly told her to “go back to your country” and “in Quebec, we only speak French."

Barak said she used a phone to call the STM and file a complaint against the employee, and then returned to the ticket booth to tell the employee. The employee was knitting at the time. At that point, Barak said, the employee “got out of the booth and she literally had me in a headlock and she was just punching me.”

What gives with the ticket-takers? In fact, what gives all around? Why can't people just learn to be decent. The promotion and protection of French is not license to debase other citizens. 

We understand that the STM cannot compel employees to know English because of Bill 101. But there is law and then there is morality.

This incident comes on the heels of the confrontation with the para-medic in Hudson who allegedly refused to even listen to an English explanation from the father of a two-year old girl writhing in seizure on the floor in front of him.

The fact is that though para-medics cannot be compelled to speak English due to Bill 101, training programs certainly encourage it.

According to the CEGEP Abitibi-Témiscamingue student guide for the ambulance program, “English opens one to another culture and demonstrates autonomy of thought and action. Called to communicate in a world where the knowledge of English is of great importance, the student must acquire college-level communication capacity pertinent to the workplace or to higher education.”

A Quebec Ministry of Education syllabus, which specifies that one of the CEGEP program’s four specific education objectives for ambulance technicians is “to respect the importance of using the English language in the exercise of their profession.”

This doesn't threaten French predominance. It is just civility. As Lucien Bouchard famously said, "In matters of health one may need a blood test, but one should never need a language test."

The STM would do well to use some of the language in the guidelines above to get their employees to be civil. Particularly after the series of incidents that preceeded Ms. Barak's confrontation.

Just earlier month, the STM forced an employee to remove a printed sign at a métro ticket booth that said: “Au Québec c’est en français que ca se passe!” ( “In Quebec, we do things in French”). In July, an STM customer filed a complaint after two métro ticket agents allegedly told him: “We don’t serve English people.” In June, Montreal Impact soccer player Miguel Montano alleged that when he spoke with a métro ticket-taker in English, he was told he needed to speak French and his money was refused.

STM, you may not be able to order your employees to speak English, but you can encourage them to be decent. Does Montreal need a Birmingham Bus boycott-type initiative to get that point across?



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