QUEBEC CITY–Just outside the Hilton hotel, part of the official site of the summit of la Francophonie, two RCMP officers stood chatting with each other in English. A woman walked up and asked in French whether they could tell her which shuttle to take.
"I think it's that way," one officer replied in English, and pointed down the road.
The woman looked confused, then started again in halting English. "That way?" she asked.
The officer, who later asked that his name not be used in this article, went to find a French-speaking counterpart for help.
It's a curious development in Quebec City – where representatives from 55 French-speaking countries and hordes of francophone media descended for the summit, the raison-d'être of which is the French language – that if attendees try to speak to police, there's a good chance they won't understand what the officer says.
After being deplored in many corners – the president of the Mouvement national des Québécoises et Québécois called it "scandalous and shameful" – the RCMP is now the subject of a complaint with the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.
Impératif français, a Gatineau, Que.-based group that promotes the use of French, made the complaint. Jean-Paul Perreault, the group's president, told The Canadian Press the situation was insulting to the population and dignitaries who expected to communicate in the language of Molière but were forced to speak the language of Shakespeare.
"We know it's a sensitive matter," said RCMP spokesperson Luc Bessette in an interview, adding not enough francophone or bilingual officers were available.
ANDREW CHUNG in thestar.com, oct 20, 2008 04:30 AM: