Language tensions are flaring up again in Montreal. The city’s transit authority (STM) is investigating allegations that a metro ticket booth attendant assaulted a passenger over a language dispute, the Montreal Gazette reports.
Mina Barak told CBC News that an argument over a broken ticket machine escalated into violence when the attendant refused to serve her in English.
Barak says she had attempted to buy two metro tickets from a machine. The machine took her money but did not give her any tickets. When she explained the problem to the clerk, in English, she says the attendant told her to “go back to your country” and “in Quebec, we can only speak French”. ”
“I don’t deserve to be told to go back to my country because I was born here. My parents have been here for 35 years. They’ve paid their share of taxes.” Barak told Global Montreal.
After phoning the STM to make a complaint, Barak said she told the attendant “I’m going to make sure you’re going to lose your job for what you said to me.”
“At that point, Barak said, the employee “got out of the booth and she literally had me in a headlock and she was just punching me.”
Jamie Salomon, who happened to be leaving the station when the incident occurred, said the ticket agent “came out of the kiosk, slammed the door and started wailing on” Barak, repeatedly punching her. Salomon said he called 911 and started pounding on a turnstile and yelling in an attempt to stop the fight.” – Montreal Gazette
This is one of several recent spats over language in Quebec’s public sector.
Last week, a couple in the Montreal suburb of Vaudreuil complained about a paramedic who refused to speak English in an emergency. Their two-year-old daughter was having a seizure, and while the girl’s father says he speaks French, he was unfamiliar with certain medical terms.
In early October, another metro ticket booth attendant ignited controversy for displaying a sign that said “Au Québec, c’est en français que ça se passe”, which roughly translates as “In Quebec, we operate in French”.
In July, a man alleged STM employees mocked him and told him “We don’t serve English people”. In June, Montreal Impact soccer player Miguel Montano accused a subway employee of racism for refusing to serve him because he didn’t speak French.
According to the 2011 census, English is the mother tongue of 11% of Montreal and 8% of Quebecers. For seven percent of Montreal, English is the only official language they know, while 54% speak both English and French. Sixteen percent of Montrealers speak English most often at home.
Quebec’s language laws complicate these situations. Marvin Rotrand, vice-chairman of the STM, told the Montreal Gazette they cannot require employees to speak a language other than French. Section 46 of Quebec’ Charter of the French Language prohibits employers “from making the obtaining of an employment or office dependent upon the knowledge or a specific level of knowledge of a language other than the official language, unless the nature of the duties requires such knowledge.”
However, Rotrand said STM employees who cannot speak English are not allowed to refuse to serve a customer. They should use alternatives, such as providing a pamphlet or finding another employee who speaks English. Rotrand said the STM board will discuss the issue of how to better serve English speaking passengers, and that assault charges may be laid in connection with Monday’s incident.