Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended Health Canada’s decision to bypass laws requiring labels and services in both the country’s official languages: French and English. During the pandemic, the government is allowing the sale of some cleaning products from the U.S. which are labeled only in English.
“We are in a situation that is completely unprecedented and what is important is to have access to things like disinfectants or hand sanitizers. In certain situations, we are ready to allow unilingual signage and labeling. But we would certainly prefer that this not happen because our linguistic duality is not just a question of our Canadian identity, it’s also a question of safety for consumers,” Trudeau said, while speaking in French.
He added that under normal circumstances it would be “totally unacceptable” and that he expected companies to work hard to rectify the situation.
The decision has angered French supporters, who called it “dangerous” and “disrespectful” to those who campaigned to preserve the country’s bilingualism. “Nothing justifies the lack of respect for our two official languages. It is a health and safety issue,” said Senator René Cormier.
Health Canada said in a statement that French labeling rules would be reinforced after the pandemic ends.
Raymond Théberge, the country’s language commissioner, has also voiced concerns about the lack of public health announcements in French in the provinces of New Brunswick and Ontario, which have large French-speaking populations, warning that, especially during this crisis, French speakers must be able to understand crucial guidelines issued by government institutions.