English communication and municipal services in Laval

Available, but little-known

By Geneviève April
www.thesuburban.com

Let’s say that you found information you needed from the urban planning department on the web, or you’ve received a letter from the city. Said service or letter is in French, and given the technical aspects, you’re not sure if you grasp the exact meaning of it. What can you do? Juggling the province’s language laws with the city’s goodwill to offer service to all can be a difficult exercise, but Laval’s municipal servants have managed to find a middle ground: You only have to ask.

“Although all our communications are in French, we do provide services and documentation in English upon request. Anyone who calls the 311 information desk can be served in English, and in most cases, we can provide translation services for specific documentation, given a few days,” said Laval communication representative Nadine Lussier. “We do try and offer the best service possible to our non-francophone citizens, but we also have to comply with provincial language laws.”

The Office québécoise de la langue française and the Cities and Towns Act state that only cities that have been recognized as bilingual—more than 50 per cent of the population identified as having English as its native language—are allowed to send out bilingual documentation without request. The law states that one should not receive unsolicited printed communication in English. Communications regarding emergency and health services and protocols are exempt from this policy, are translated at once and readily available.

This policy can make it difficult for English-speaking citizens to partake in social activities, as well as obtain crucial information regarding municipal services.

“On the web site, we try to provide at least a résumé of the information in English,” added Lussier, “even though the city is not obligated to do so.” A few pages of the city website offer English links, but The Suburban found that many of those lead to a “This information is available in French only” error page.

“We did undertake an initiative a few years ago to distribute the city’s Vivre à Laval newsletter in both French and English to selected neighborhoods. We were scolded by the Office québécoise de la Langue française,” explained Lussier. “We found a compromise, where we encouraged people interested in receiving the brochure in English to request to receive it, free-of-charge. Nearly 2,000 people accepted the invitation.”

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