News | En français, s’il vous plait

Student societies falter in providing high quality bilingual communication services

As the McGill français movement celebrates its fortieth anniversary this year, student societies are failing to provide many Internet and communication services in French.

SSMU, the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS), and Elections McGill among others, have all been criticized recently for sending unilingual or poorly translated emails to students, failing to translate key documents, and for hosting English-only web sites. Currently, the Law Students Association (LSA) is the only faculty student association to have a French version of its web site.

Justin Margolis, the Arts Representative to the SSMU Commission on Francophone Affairs (CAF), wrote an open letter to AUS that appeared in The Daily complaining about the lack of services in French.

“There have been an unprecedented amount of complaints brought to my attention regarding bilingualism in the AUS, not only about the Listserv, but also about the absence of French on AUS documents, and at AUS Council,” Margolis wrote.

The first AUS Listserv of the year was English only, but it promised that the subsequent ones would be in French; however, it was October 29 before the Listserv was finally translated. Margolis called the quality of French in the following Listserv “unacceptable,” with “grammatical mistakes, spelling errors, and typographical errors.”

Adil Katrack, AUS VP Com-munication, explained that the French Listservs were delayed due to AUS’s lack of a translator, and further that the October 29 Listserv was translated very quickly. The AUS issued an apology in the following Listserv for the poor quality French.

“[The current translator is] very qualified and we are confident in her ability to translate effectively,” said Katrack. “There are no plans in place to have someone check her French before it is published. It would seem hypocritical…. We do not check our English before it is published.”

AUS will poster in French, and members of the AUS Executive will respond to French emails in French.

“We are working toward being more available in French,” Katrack said. “We recognize French as one of our official languages, and we are in the process of legitimizing it.”

The one AUS translator is paid $400, and is also translating the bylaws, web site, and logo, while the two SSMU translators – one for Listserv and one for other documents – both get paid significantly more, although the exact amount could not be disclosed. Translators receive the English material Friday and must have it translated by Monday.

Despite funding two translators, SSMU has also been criticized for its patchy French correspondence, such as the absence of a French Listserv sent out about the online referendum to ratify GA motions.

“The GA process for ratification requires that the vote must go online within 48 hours of the GA. We did not have the in-house resources to get it translated on time,” said SSMU President Kay Turner. “I understand that this was unacceptable and I formally apologized to SSMU council.”

Turner said that SSMU is improving its weak record of bilingualism, saying that by the end of this school year all bylaws will be translated into French, within the next few months the web site will be available in French, and SnowAP and Frosh have already incorporated French.

“It is only in the past few years that SSMU has actively been putting the true value on bilingualism that it deserves,” said Turner. “SSMU does not have a great track record of having documents available in French. Just now we are trying to catch up and be functionally bilingual.”

Alexandre Shee, VP External of the LSA and also a member of CAF, brought a motion Thursday to Council, after noting the poor translation services, in order to reaffirm SSMU’s bilingual policy – the motion passed overwhelmingly.

“When it happened the first time, I let it go. When it happened a second time, I thought ‘This is ridiculous,” said Shee. “It’s of utter disrespect.”

Shee has also cited a problem with Elections McGill, saying their emails have been solely in English.

“This is a problem within the democratic process because they are not giving francophone students the chance to be involved in the community.

Elections McGill said that by the end of the year all Listservs, major documents, and its web site will be bilingual.

Alana Boileau, the SSMU Francophone Commissioner, responded to councillors’ inquiries on what reaffirming the policy would change.

“We’re using repetition as a tactic,” said Boileau.

Turner seconded the motion, a similar version of which will be proposed to the AUS Council.

“By having this motion passed, we will be instilling it into the consciousness of SSMU and cannot just pay lip service to the need for being bilingual. People sometimes need reminders of that,” said Turner.

Katrack and Turner both believe that the biggest challenge they face with regards to bilingualism is finding a balance.

“AUS considers both anglophone and francophone students equal,” said Katrack. “The most we can do for francophone students is to make them feel equal. We are currently working with the CAF to achieve this.”

Turner agrees that it’s difficult to make concrete differences.

“It’s hard because on the one hand we do not want francophone students to feel as if they are a minority group and need to be isolated or tokenized within SSMU,” Turner said. “On the other hand, there is obviously not the same level of participation in SSMU events for francophones as for anglophones, and some of this can be attributed to many francophone students living away from campus. So that is a really fine balance.”

– with files from Nicholas Smith


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