And so it was a normal, cool, crisp and sunny Northern Ontario morning last April whenever I left the house to mail a letter at the Post Office. I had not much to do that day; and figured I would take complete advantage of the time I had to run a few errands. My first step was the Post Office.
There was no lineup when I arrived and felt blessed that my luck was so far, so good. I was wrong though. As I approached the mid-age woman working behind the desk I greeted her and wished her a good morning and requested to purchase a stamp in the language of my choice, which happens to be English. She obliged by producing the stamp and not returning the greeting in English nor French. The remainder of our exchange during the few minutes had me requesting my service in English whereby her portion of the exchange was conducted in French.
Now, normally this situation wouldn’t be a problem for me as everyone knows I’m bilingual. But on this particular day, I couldn’t get over the fact that I showed absolutely no inclination at all as to being bilingual. Why wasn’t I served in English when clearly I greeted the worker in English upon the beginning of our exchange? Further, why didn’t the Postal Worker switch to English whenever I was communicating in said language? I could have switched to French but I decided not to. My idea in this decision had to do with the fact that I felt that the worker was obligated to provide me with the service in English simply because I was the customer. This would have been different if at any time she had informed me that she couldn’t speak English and would try to accommodate me by other means. One such solution she could have sought out would be to perhaps seek out the services of another Postal Worker to serve me if she didn’t speak English herself.
In any case, I didn’t complain. That is, I didn’t file a complaint at the Post Office. As an aside, I have come across instances like this a few dozen times during the course of business transactions with civil service workers throughout the years and even some in the private industry. And, after all was said and done, I never complained. I had simply grown accustomed to situations like the one above and there is an argument to be made that I had become somewhat conditioned by these scenarios over the years.
Perhaps it’s my newfound sense of fairness and pride that has awakened within me during these past two years. Perhaps now that I’m a little longer in the tooth, I have decided that I no longer will take things lying down as it were.
It’s one thing to learn a minority language and to enjoy the privileges of being able to read, write and speak in French. But for what purpose and intent? And to who’s benefit is it that I am bilingual? Myself or to those whom I communicate with who have French as a first language? I can honestly state that being bilingual hasn’t furthered my career options nor has it had the desired effect of garnishing career advancement opportunities for me in the job that I do have. Moreover, I get the feeling that being bilingual for many of us Anglophones simply equates to making it easier for the Francophones to not have to learn English in order to communicate with us – such as in daily merchant transactions.
It was with all of these thoughts swirling within my consciousness that April day that I made the conscientious decision to file a complaint with Canada’s, ‘Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages’. Before doing so, however, I ensured that I had a valid complaint to begin with and checked out the ‘Filing a Complaint’ section, sub-section, ‘In what situations can I file a complaint’. After reviewing the information, I determined that I did in fact have a valid complaint and filed an online complaint the day of my Post Office visit and an initial response was forthcoming from a representative within a week of filing the complaint.
The representative advised me that in order to solve the dilemma of what had occurred an investigation would take place as to the incident itself. Having said that, keep in mind that my complaint was well documented and filed only after a few hours of the incident taking place. Everything that happened was written succinctly on the initial report!
So, after e-mail and playing telephone tag to which more than a half dozen e-mails and a half dozen telephone calls were sent between myself and the representative detailing what had occurred; I emphasized and re-emphasized that I wanted only one question answered – and that was the following:
Why, was I spoken to in French whenever I clearly communicated in English?
All of this to say that as month 3 was coming around the corner subsequent to the initial incident; I was informed that the investigation was completed and that the results would soon be forthcoming. I have a few questions as to this entire affair after having gone through this experience. One being why haven’t I been provided with a response yet after 3 months? Certainly this is a cut and paste situation?
Exactly what justifies the creation of an, “Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages” to begin with. As of 2011, there were 518 complaints that the office dealt with having to do with language issues. On October 16, 2012 a Globe and Mail article reported that,
“Almost half of the 518 complaints came from the area around Ottawa and adjacent Gatineau, Que., …” (http://www.theglobeandmail.
Are Canadian taxpayers being led to believe that 518 language-related complaints warrant a full-time staff being paid civil service wages to investigate this? I cannot help but comment that more work is done during an 8 hour shift by a half dozen or less call centre employees who themselves individually handle on average a little more than 100 calls a day. It seems as though by comparing stats, we’re not exactly getting a great bang for our buck. So, I would argue that what we have here is but another example of government incompetence; a type and kind of federal government language police make-work project that our taxes are paying for.
And I’ll say this much. We already have a set of language police in this country. We don’t require the services of another; let alone the foundational Office quebecois de la langue francaise.
Ask yourselves this much: Will it take over 3 months to solve your next computer or cell phone issue by someone making minimum wage? Probably not. So why would something so trivial take so long to conclude by someone being paid so much?
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