Community member Xavier Dearhouse was left reeling last week after he said he was refused service and asked to leave by security at the Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec (SAAQ) branch in Valleyfield for not speaking French.
“I was sitting there for an hour waiting, and when I was called up I said, ‘I’m here to make an appointment for my driving test,’ but they were speaking in French, so I couldn’t understand, and I told them I didn’t understand,” Dearhouse said. “When I said that, she pointed to a wall sign. I can’t understand French, so I couldn’t even understand the sign. I said again that I was First Nations, but they were insisting I would speak French.”
Dearhouse said that he continued to reiterate that he could not understand French and that the employee kept repeating “no” and pointing to the sign. He said after around five minutes of this kind of conversation, the employee waved over security guards, who asked him to wait outside.
“I was trying to argue my point, asking if they could just speak to me in English, or if somebody else could serve me,” Dearhouse said. “I could hear (that other employees) were speaking English.”
To book his driving test, Dearhouse had to pay $31. He said that when he was speaking with the original employee he handed over $40 to pay for the appointment, and the employee took the money. However, Dearhouse said he was asked to leave the establishment before he was able to collect his change and before being able to collect a receipt. He was also not given an appointment time for his driving test, meaning he will have to return to another SAAQ establishment to book the test, presumably having to pay again.
Dearhouse said this was particularly stressful, as he qualifies for financial support from Kahnawà:ke Shakotiia’takehnhas Community Services (KSCS) and was supposed to bring the receipt of his purchase to his case worker in order to be reimbursed for his test. He said thankfully KSCS was still able to reimburse him and was understanding of the situation.“We should be allowed to speak English. We should be allowed to speak languages that we understand,” Dearhouse said. “It’s not right, in my eyes.”
Dearhouse said there was minimal response from other customers waiting for appointments, and that one man reiterated to him that he had to speak French and that he should leave if he wasn’t able to.
“It wasn’t a good reaction,” he said. “He told me to leave too, I don’t understand why.”
Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) chief Cody Diabo, who is on the portfolios for Indigenous rights and research as well as external government relations, said Dearhouse’s experience is an example of how Quebec’s Bill 96 language laws continue to harm Indigenous people. The law states that French is Quebec’s only official language and has caused barriers for community members trying to access services in English.
“This was something we had definitely worried about and foreseen would start happening, because even before the recent language law was passed in Quebec, people in the community could already tell you stories about how people were polite until you spoke English, or how when you showed your status card, their attitudes would change,” said Diabo.
He said that Dearhouse’s experience is all too common.
“It’s hurtful to hear that (this happened), and yet it’s not overly surprising that someone would go to these lengths to remove someone from the premises,” he said.
Diabo advises community members who experience issues like Dearhouse to reach out to KSCS or the MCK directly to report the incidents. He said this way, the organizations can keep track of examples of how community members are being harmed in practice by the law, and can bring evidence to future discussions with the provincial government.
Dearhouse is still considering whether or not to submit a formal complaint to the SAAQ.
The SAAQ did not respond to The Eastern Door’s request for comment by deadline.