Saturday, December 4

Francophone patients of the McGill University Health Center

I have been a patient at the McGill University Health Center (MUHC) for at least ten years. It is a hospital center that offers excellent health care to both Francophone and Anglophone populations. Over the years, several Francophone users have periodically complained that they were unable to obtain services in French.

Last October, a user expressed the administrative complications encountered in the process of obtaining a medical report in French. Unable to obtain it, she was instead redirected to the archives service of the hospital, which invited her to fill out a form to obtain the translated document (Journal of Montreal, October 14, 2021). This problem is far from new, as witnessed in 2016 by users and even French-speaking doctors, shocked to receive medical reports in English (Press, April 4, 2016). As a MUHC patient, I can confirm that it is – alas! – common practice ; indeed, all my CT, ultrasound, endoscopy and laboratory results are given to me in English.

I complained, in turn, by using the complaints system provided for in the Act respecting health services and social services, until the last resort, the Québec Ombudsman. The user always comes up against the same answer: the Charter of the French language allows the writer of a medical report to use French or English indifferently.

The user who wants to obtain a medical report in French, if the report was written in English, must request a “summary” of his clinical file and wait patiently. This is what many people denounce. However, article 2 of the Charter clearly specifies that citizens have the right to have health and social services communicate with them in French. Francophones are not entitled to equal treatment since they must endure translation delays and only obtain a “summary”. Is this really what a patient struggling with the diagnosis of a serious illness is entitled to in a state that preaches out loud that there is only one official language in Quebec (Article 1 of the Charter of French language) and that this language is the working language?


Appeals to the Office québécois de la langue française or the Québec Ombudsman are illusory, given the current wording of the Charter. What to do then? To address the legislator to modify this injustice, of course. This is what I did by means of an email addressed to the Minister responsible for the French language, for which I did not even obtain an acknowledgment of receipt. His Bill 96 hardly solves the problem, since it always mentions obtaining a “summary” of the clinical file, but “as soon as possible”. We all know what that means from a government administration!

On the one hand, French-speaking users demand that the document be obtained in its full version, which will allow them to fully exercise the rights already recognized by law to participate in their care, to understand their condition and to be informed about the care that the professional provides. On the other hand, I believe that the hospital administration must do everything to foster an internal culture that promotes the use of French with its professionals by encouraging the writing of clinical files in French. This is certainly not the case at present, since certain examinations carried out by French-speaking doctors on French-speaking users end with the drafting of the report in English. The administration, in particular the council of doctors, dentists and pharmacists of the establishment, must tackle a real transformation of the culture which currently prevails in linguistic matters. I recently challenged the president of this council on this subject, but I am still without an answer.

Without taking away the slightest right of Anglophones to receive services in their language, it is high time that legislators and administrators do what is necessary so that this institution, respected by all, is up to the demands addressed to it with regard to l use of French.

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