Complaints from public spark Nunavut hospital language inquiry

Official languages commissioner will produce report for GN, legislative assembly


The Office of the Languages Commissioner of Nunavut has confirmed that its continuing investigation into Inuit and French language services at the Qikiqtani General Hospital originated with user complaints.

And those complaints will lead to a final report with recommendations, which will eventually be presented to Nunavut’s department of Health and Social Services, the legislative assembly and the office of the Premier.

The report will then be made public in all Nunavut’s official languages.

The investigation, termed “systemic” because of alleged abuse of language rights in the hospital that affect a lot of people, is going well so far, said Maude Bertrand, the Office of the Languages Commissioner’s research investigator for French at a public meeting held May 16 in Iqaluit.

“We did receive some concerns from the public, whether it’s [about] medical escorts, posters not being available in all official languages, or the language bonus,” Bertrand said, noting that sometimes information posters aren’t done in all official languages.

They’ve also heard people complain about language services at the hospital in the past, Bertrand said.

“When you come into the hospital and you’re already vulnerable, you’re in pain, you cannot advocate for yourself and ask for language services. There has to be a language service offered right at the beginning. It should be noted in the patient file,” she said. “Medical language is already complex.”

There can be important mistakes when patients and staff don’t understand each other, said Bertrand, adding that her office has been interviewing staff at the hospital and gathering materials from the hospital and the public alike.

Despite a low turn-out at the meeting, the Office of the Languages Commissioner remains optimistic more people will come forward, but perhaps not in a public forum.

“We’ve met a lot of people at our office already who came to us with concerns, and maybe they don’t want to be here publicly, [because] they want to keep it confidential,” Bertrand said.

Once investigators finish interviewing everyone they want to interview, the report will be written and presented, Bertrand said.

“It’s important to understand that the [goal of the] systemic investigation is to work together towards common goals, which is respect of language rights and access to health care in the official language of your choice,” she said.

At the meeting, someone said there is a huge demand for translators, which can result in delays.

“We’re hoping that in the future there will be some progress,” Bertrand said, stating that translators are able to put less urgent work aside when there is an emergency.

No names are ever mentioned in reports, Bertrand said. “We try to guarantee confidentiality.”

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