Thursday, December 13, 2007

PART I: Language/Cultural Accomodation in Canada

I'm really torn about this one:

[...]
His was one of four cases Quebec coroner Jacques Ramsay made public yesterday to underline that accommodating immigrants with different cultures and languages is not trivial, but sometimes a matter of life and death.

Dr. Ramsay plans to present the four cases to the provincial inquiry headed by academics GĂ©rard Bouchard and Charles Taylor, which is holding hearings into the accommodation of minorities.

"This isn't about frosted windows. This is more fundamental," Dr. Ramsay said, alluding to the uproar created by a Montreal YMCA's decision to darken its gym windows to placate Hasidic Jewish neighbours.

There was, for example, the death of Lee Beong Gu from South Korea, who suffered heart failure and lay unattended for an hour at his home. Because of the language barrier, it took 40 minutes before the Korean-speaking owner of a local corner store arrived and phoned 911.

Monique Jean-Baptiste, a 38-year-old Haitian, died in 2005 of complications from an ectopic pregnancy, although she lived a few minutes from a hospital.

I have a personal experience about this. Several years ago, while I was on an exchange in a very small town in Quebec, my exchange roommate developed an eye infection. She went to the local hospital/clinic. I do not remember why I could not go with her (I am much more advanced in French than she was at the time), but I remember her telling me about how she had trouble communicating with the doctor because he did not speak English. While an eye infection is obvious enough of what is wrong, she could not answer questions or communicate about symptoms, when, where, how etc...

Also, last time I went to the doctor on campus, I noticed a sign in Chinese on the bulletin board with common medical ailments in English on the left and then (assumably, because I don't read the language) in Chinese on the other side.

So I must ask, at what point should cultural and language accommodation stop? While medical decisions (especially the wrong ones) can lead to life or death, then yes, language accommodation should be a priority (like those signs in the Carleton University doctor's office). But should banking information/website, for example, be in Chinese or any other language that isn't the official language of the country?

This introduces the difference between public and private. Public documents/departments/organizations must do everything in English and French. While the private sector (banks etc...) can do what is appropriate for their "market". But at what point does cultural or language accommodation stop and when should we insist on new Canadians learning our language in our country (the country to which they choose to immigrate).

On a university campus, I often see international students hanging out with students either from their country or who speak their language. When in unfamiliar territory, it's only natural to be attracted to--in the word's of the Land Before Time--"your own kind". However, if the shoe was on the other foot, would the same happen?

For example, if I went to Germany or Japan for university, I would need to know the language enough to get by in university. I would not expect to see many Canadians (some, of course) and because there would not be many of us. I would be forced to learn and speak the language, as you should, in another country. I would need to speak the local language not only in the classroom, but during my downtime as well. But with the large number of international students that Canada takes in, it's easy to find others who speak the same language as you. I found the same thing happened in high school too, where it wasn't solely a language issue, but a cultural issue too.

In Part II, I plan to talk about the tragic murder of Aqsa Parvez refuting how yes it IS about culture.

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