In Ottawa pharmacies, French is far from the front line

” Someone speaks French ? » Bilingualism pales in Ottawa’s Shoppers Drug Mart: less than half of this brand’s 15 pharmacies visited by The duty were able to serve us in French. A result that is not “optimal”, but still “encouraging” for a company not subject to the French Language Services Act of Ontario, note Franco-Ontarian organizations.

The latter, however, wish to see this law expanded in the current context of the privatization of health services in the province.

Even pharmacists at Shoppers Drug Mart in Vanier and Orléans, historically French-speaking areas of the federal capital, were unable to understand or answer the following question in French: “Do you collect expired medications?” »

The absence of service in French at the English-speaking counterpart of Pharmaprix (60%) is also above the average, which stands at 45% across the 22 pharmacies visited The duty. The percentage drops to 15% when we look only at the Rexall, Jean Coutu and independent pharmacies that appear in the sample.

In total, in 82% of pharmacies, the first person to whom The duty addressed did not speak French. A search for the only employee with this ability followed almost automatically. “Normally, we have someone, but not today,” apologized a pharmacist. Others struggled to translate words on their computers and ended up answering our question. But some simply gave up any possibility of service.

Distribution giant Loblaws, which owns the Shoppers Drug Mart chain, did not respond to requests from Duty.

Beyond service, The duty was able to note the low presence of signs in French in these businesses. In all Shoppers Drug Mart branches visited, the pharmacy’s commitments were only stated in English. Patients also had to choose to go to the counters “ pick-up ” Or “ drop off » in order to collect or drop off their medications. And while some information sheets included a French version, others were only in English.

Expand the scope of the law?

Pharmacies are not subject to Ontario’s French Language Services Act or its Regulations on the active offer of services in French, recalls Normand Glaude, interim director general of the French Language Health Services Network. Eastern Ontario (RSSFE).

Thus, since bilingualism is a matter of goodwill on the part of companies, he says he is “encouraged to see that 55% of the pharmacies visited [par Le Devoir] were able to offer the service in French”, even if this was done in a “disorganized” manner more like “chance”. “You get served in French because it’s nice to have someone speak French,” he noted. That said, “it is very important that French speakers are not afraid to request services in French, so as to signal to pharmacies [leurs] needs,” says Mr. Glaude.

But, generally speaking, “the hope is that the government [ontarien] broaden the scope a little” of laws on services in French, especially in the current context of “privatization of services,” adds the interim leader of the RSSFE.

The president of the Assembly of the Francophonie of Ontario (AFO), Fabien Hébert, is of the same opinion. “We need the linguistic obligations of the province to be transferred to private providers [afin de s’assurer de couvrir] the entire continuum of health services. » “Ideally, if services were offered in both languages ​​in all pharmacies, that would be optimal,” he adds.

The latter does not say he is “not surprised” by the results of the initiative of the Duty, given the proportion of Francophones present in Ottawa (14.9%). The resident of Hearst, in northern Ontario, is also “convinced that the proportion [de pharmacies qui peuvent servir leurs clients en français] must decrease greatly” when one “moves away from Ottawa”.

But what particularly worries the boss of the AFO is the signing of an agreement between Loblaws and the insurance company Manulife. Because since January 22, Manulife has essentially restricted its specialty drug coverage to Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacies. These drugs — “often expensive” — are used to treat “complex and chronic” illnesses, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis or even cancer, we can read on the supplier’s website. insurance. “It will really force people to go to certain pharmacies”, which can “put the customer at risk” in the event of a lack of services in French, deplores Mr. Hébert.

“Mutual aid” and risks

In a Shoppers Drug Mart visited by The duty, a customer, understanding that communication could not be established with the pharmacist, offered her translation services. In a downtown Rexall, the unilingual English-speaking pharmacist accompanied The duty towards the entrance of the store to ask a cashier to act as a translator.

Two situations which demonstrate a desire for “mutual assistance”, according to Mr. Glaude, but which also leave room for risks of non-respect of confidentiality and poor translation, which “could have effects on security [des patients] and on the service rendered.

“If the pharmacist asks a pharmacy technician to do the translation, that’s one thing. But if he asks a cashier, it’s another matter, says Mr. Hébert. For me, it is clear that I would choose a pharmacy where I can have services in French. »

This report is supported by the Local Journalism Initiative, funded by the Government of Canada.

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