Not long ago I received a hefty envelope from our local provincial medical centre, the place where our daughter Téa’s case will be managed.
In it was an intake questionnaire in French with a post-it note apology from the social worker, saying she had run out of the English version. I don’t read/understand French with the same fluency as English and I live in a largely English-speaking area on the west island of Montreal.
The questionnaire is intended to capture information about Téa’s birth and developmental history and serves as the starting point for service acquisition in the public sector.
As you can imagine, it’s pretty vital that I understand what I am being asked. Though my husband was educated in English and French, I am the one who is the primary caregiver to our daughter and the only one who can answer any and all questions related to Téa’s birth, infancy, history, progress and interventions we have already put in place for her.
This means that even with him by my side translating the questions and then translating my answers, MOST of the nuance and context going both ways, that is: what I am understanding from my husband about the question and what he is understanding from me and then translating – are LOST.
Most of us – even though we speak French – when dealing with matters as important and delicate as these prefer and often need our native language; and while that may introduce the argument of whether a version of each form needs to be made available in everyone’s native tongue, no (but would’ it be great if it could be??), we’re in Canada and an English form should be available in largely English speaking areas – even in Quebec. If banks translate their automated tellers into mandarin in areas where their client demographic is Asian, then surely agencies created to service we the citizens can stock enough bi-lingual forms that I don’t get a French one with an “Ooops, sorry!”.
This got me thinking about a recent post in Huff Post from a fellow-Quebec mom with an Autistic child who asked whether she ought to leave the province given that her son didn’t – and likely wouldn’t ever – speak French. Linda poses what I see as a very complex challenge: should her son leave Quebec.
We suffer the worst access and wait-lists in the country. Her son is now 14…my daughter is 2 and a half. And I’m thinking of leaving. We have family in Ontario, just as we have family here. We’re lucky that we have the love and support of everyone everywhere. But for families without relatives in other cities (ideally BC or Calgary if your child has Autism), do you stay or do you go?
What would you do?
Calgary gives parents $40k/yr with a valid diagnosis (then it drops after age 6, I don’t recall how much). In BC you get $22k/yr towards services from approved practitioners. You’d think we’d all have moved by now. But we don’t, for the same reasons that Lisa points out: we work hard to create a life, and work, and connections where we are. And there is much to love about Montreal, about Quebec.
I am an Argentinian Jew who grew up in Toronto and chose to move to Montreal to follow the love of my life. How many strikes until you’re out in the game of the proposed new charter? Already I feel like a second-class citizen whenever I speak English in public. Now, as a family with a child with special needs, I am further marginalized and so is she.
At our house, there are three languages with English being the dominant one you’ll hear with an ever-increasing smattering of French now that two of our girls are in Elementary school, and flourish in Spanish. If we go to Toronto, our girls will be enrolled in French immersion programs.
This shouldn’t be a question of whether to stay or go. There shouldn’t be an absence of English forms. There shouldn’t be a disparity between English and French services…both of which fall grossly below the minimum necessary for our children. There shouldn’t be a chasm so large that whole families fall into abuse, poverty, and depression between what is publicly provided for and privately available.
And yet, here we are. Merde.