Home CommentaryOpinions If you take public transport, you better speak French

If you take public transport, you better speak French

by George Menexis November 13, 2012
If you take public transport, you better speak French

Graphic by Jennifer Kwan.

Living in Quebec, for better or worse we have become used to seeing ridiculous posters on walls that say “In Quebec, we speak only French,” hearing people say, “go back to your country” or even seeing services being refused to English-speaking civilians.

However, when all of these things were done jointly by employees of one specific public company, it raises concern about our society; especially when that company is the the Société de transport de Montréal.

The STM has been under some intense public scrutiny in the past few months. Not because of their slow service or growing prices, but for abusing a certain nonexistent power they think they have as a French public company.

Now, it is true that under Quebec’s controversial Bill 101, companies aren’t required to insist their employees know any language other than French. But as a public company in a bilingual country, it is absolutely preposterous that we have heard of so many cases in which people in Montreal can’t be served in English.

As a trilingual Montrealer of Greek origin reading about such incidents at the STM, I can’t help but shudder at what our society has come to. In a free and democratic society like Canada’s, people still frown on each other over the language they speak. An STM worker allegedly went as far as allegedly flipping off 23-year-old commuter Mina Barak when she spoke to the employee in English.

These incidents, especially in the STM, have the older generations buzzing, saying how it reminds them of when the Parti Québécois first emerged into Quebec politics.

“I feel like it’s the René Lévesque era all over again,” said Jacqueline Corbie, a 69-year-old retiree. “It’s saddening to hear about these incidents weekly.”

“The STM is a joke,” said Helen Merkouris, a 45-year-old also born in Quebec. “It’s so frustrating to see this happening and not be able to do anything about it.”

Quebec has come a long way since then. These incidents, however, have been frequent in the STM for quite some time now.

Marvin Rotrand, vice-president of the STM, has been speaking to many news agencies about these incidents. He said that the STM would look at these incidents and investigate further and told Global news that the incident involving violence “will be discussed at the board meeting next month.” Similarly, when an unofficial sign was put up in Villa-Maria metro last month by a teller that roughly translates to “In Quebec, we do things in French,” STM spokesperson Marianne Rouette told The Gazette that the employee “will be met [with] and if necessary, appropriate measures will be taken.” Needless to say, no measures have been taken, despite the STM saying that “by posting the sign, the [employee] expresses his personal political opinion, which is not acceptable to the STM.”

What does this all mean? It means that the STM is a public embarrassment. It means that these employees will continue working at the STM as if nothing happened. It’s sad to say that in a company like the STM, ignorant acts, acts of violence, and even potential racism, go unpunished. There’s only one word to describe what’s happening: disappointing.

It personally makes me sick to my stomach to think about it and until they start taking legitimate punitive actions against ignorant, politically-ignorant employees, incidents like these will keep surfacing, and the STM will keep making idiotic excuses for itself.

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