The Globe and Mail Wednesday, January 5, 2005
Canadian Press Montreal PQ - Two nurses at an English-language hospital have lost their licences after failing a written French test, though Quebec faces a nursing shortage.
Elizabeth Davantes, 47, and Eulin Gumbs, 43, who both speak French, say they will look for work outside Quebec after losing their jobs recently at the Jewish General Hospital.
Quebec’s language watchdog and the provincial nursing federation require that all nurses, even those in English hospitals, pass a written French test.
Ms. Gumbs has failed the test five times, while Ms. Davantes has failed on four occasions.
Ms. Gumbs, a single mother of two who rates her spoken French as excellent, said yesterday she is looking for a job elsewhere now that she cannot work here.
"I don’t want to leave," she said. "Quebec is my home. My family lives here, my kids live here.
"But I cannot support myself on nothing."
The Office de la langue française recently warned that the use of French in the workplace is in a "precarious" state in Quebec, and Premier Jean Charest has hinted at a crackdown.
However, the province faces a major nursing shortage.
A report released in 2003 suggests Quebec will lose 16 per cent of its nurses to retirement in 2006.
Head nurse Serge Cloutier, who worked with the two women, said the ranks of his profession are thin and will not be helped if nurses are forced out.
"It’s a bad situation," Mr. Cloutier said in an interview.
"Of course, if you lose two nurses it makes a difference."
The nursing federation did not return phone calls yesterday.
The hospital said it did its best to help the women. "The Jewish General Hospital actively tried to keep [the nurses] on staff, even though they failed the written section of the French exam," it says in a statement.
Hospital officials wrote several letters to the nursing federation and spoke with the language agency in an attempt to have the nurses’ licences extended, the hospital said. But the licences were revoked in October, it said.
A spokesman for the Office de la langue française said his organization is not to blame for the two nurses losing their jobs.
Gérald Paquette said the French tests are drafted with the help of professional orders and employers.
"If the professional order and the employers decided that a certain level of written expression is required, these requirements are established by all," Mr. Paquette said yesterday.
Rev. Darryl Gray, president of the English-rights lobby group Alliance Quebec, said Quebec is showing ill will toward the women.
"Anglophone nurses definitely are not going to jeopardize the French language in this province," he said in an interview.
Mr. Gray said he wonders why the province won’t work with Ms. Davantes and Ms. Gumbs to help them improve their written French skills.
"How can we attract people to this province if it has been made clear to us by the province that we’re not wanted ?" he asked.