English-speaking Quebecers have a legal right to receive health and social services in English. But this right is not absolute: there are limits. This article explains how the rules work in practice, how to file a complaint if necessary and where to get information on English services in your region.
Institutions Covered by the Rules
The rules explained in this article apply to public institutions such as local community service centres ("CLSCs"), hospitals, youth protection centres, residential and long-term care centres ("CHSLDs") and rehabilitation centres.
The rules also apply to other organizations that have contracts with a public institution. For example, the rules might apply to a group home offering services under a contract with a health and social services institution.
The Right to Service in English and Its Limits
Two categories of health and social services institutions must provide services in English:
1. Designated Institutions
All services in these institutions must available in English.
Institutions can be "designated" (recognized) by the government when a majority of the people they serve speak a language other than French.
2. Services Listed in an Access Program
In each region of Quebec, the government agency responsible for public health and social services must create an “access program."
These government agencies are called either integrated health and social services centres or integrated university health and social services centres (CISSS and CIUSSS in French).
An access program must list all the services in the region that will be available in English.
These programs must take into account the human, financial and other resources available to the institutions in the region.
Access programs must include the designated institutions that must provide all their services in English. (See No. 1 above - “Designated Institutions”.)
Agencies making access programs have some freedom to decide how to ensure services in English. For example, they can make an agreement with another region to send patients to the other region, use technology or interpreters to provide services in English, or have specific time-slots for providing services in English.
Access programs must be approved by two committees representing the English-speaking population and by the Quebec government. They must be reviewed every five years.
Complaints About Lack of Service in English
If you have a complaint about a lack of services in English that should be provided by a designated institution or under an access program, there is a complaint procedure.
The complaint can be filed by the person using the services, or by someone acting for that person.
Complaints should be filed with the complaints "commissioner" for the institution. A staff member of the institution involved can give you the name and contact information of the commissioner. Part of the commissioner's role is helping people express their complaints.
You can also get help from the "users' committee" of the CISSS or CIUSSS or of the institution you are dealing with. If people are staying at the institution on a long-term basis, there might an "in-patients' committee" that can help.
The complaints assistance and support centre in your region can also help. (This website is in French only.) You can also call 1-877-767-2227. The services of these centres are free and confidential.
If you are not satisfied with the response of the complaints commissioner, or you do not get an answer from the commissioner within 45 days of when the commissioner got the complaint, you can ask the Quebec Ombudsman to review your complaint (1-800-463-5070).
Language of Health and Social Service Records
There is no right for patients to have their health and social services records (files) in English. The general rule is that the person preparing a document for this kind of record, such as a doctor, can decide whether to write it in English or French. However, a health or social services institution does have the option of requiring documents to be written only in French.
Language of Signs and Posters
You might wonder why some institutions have signs and posters in English and French, and others only in French.
Institutions can only have signs and posters in English if they are a "designated" institution. (See No. 1 in the section above "The Right to Service in English and Its Limits".) In other words, the majority of the people served by the institution speak a language other than French.
Designated institutions must still have French on their signs and posters along with English.
Also, designated institutions can have signs and posters in a language other than English (along with French).
Finally, if a sign or poster is needed for public safety, it can be in both French and another language, even if the institution is not designated.
Find Out About English Services in Your Region
1. Contact the integrated health and social services centre (CISSS or CIUSSS) for your region. The CISSS and CIUSSS are the umbrella agencies reponsible for health and social services in each region of Quebec.
2. Contact one of the community organizations that is a member of the Community Health and Social Services Network (CHSSN). This is an organization that works with public health and social services institutions to ensure services in English.
View a printer-friendly version of this article in pamphlet format: Health and Social Services in English (PDF) (2.21mb).
This article explains in a general way the law that applies in Quebec. This article is not a legal opinion or legal advice. To find out the specific rules for your situation, consult a lawyer or notary.