A raped woman was taken to Montreal General Hospital by police at dawn. She was in shock. However, she was denied forensic examinations and transferred to a French-speaking hospital. For what? The hospital management refers to a log from 1977. Radio-Canada met the victim.
That night a man disobeyed my will and my word. After the attack I went outside. Haggard, I walked, then I dialed 911. The police picked me up and took me to the hospital. I was exhausted. Shocked. But they didn’t want to take me in because I speak French. That night I felt humiliated again and robbed of my linguistic identity.
Rosalie tells me everything in one go. She was a little nervous, she told me, but determined. She would like to speak to a journalist and denounce what she considers to be absurd language rules in health care in the case of sexual assaults.
Rosalie* is a fictional name. In the empty restaurant where we meet at this afternoon off-peak hour, the young woman explains to me that she does not want her name to be publicly associated with that night when her body and soul suffered a tremendous outrage.
She tells me the storyline that happened three years ago. A pleasant evening. A few cold beers. She and he hadn’t seen each other for a long time. Before they were in love. But it was finally over. That evening they saw each other as friends. I asked him several times if he felt comfortable in this role of friend, in a platonic relationship. He replied that it was no problem.
Since it was late and she lived quite far from there, he offered to spend the night where he was staying. She agreed and went to bed downstairs. He was upstairs in the bedroom where there was air conditioning. However, it was a severe July night when the heat wave disrupted sleep and Rosalie was suffocating and unable to fall asleep. The friend kindly offered to reverse the situation. He wanted to sleep downstairs.
She herself could go to sleep on the cool upper floor. But Rosalie* is a sensitive girl. I always think of others. I was raised that way, she said.
She sighs and rolls her eyes. She blames herself for this trait that played nasty tricks on her: That’s why I offered to sleep by my side, but with all due respect. It was so hot I thought, Poor guy, he’ll never sleep. I kept my clothes. I curled up with my back to him. There was no sexual ambiguity.
Except that he changed his mind. While Rosalie slept, he inserted his penis into hers without her consent. I woke up. He ejaculated. I told him I didn’t want that and that he knew it. To justify this, he replied, “You know, if the temptation is too great… I’m sorry.”
On July 14, Judge Alexandre Dalmau sentenced the person who committed the sexual assault to 18 months in prison.
I was so relieved when I heard the phrase! I was afraid that he only got a suspended sentence [à purger à la maison]. It relieved me. It’s like putting an end to a black chapter. I’m telling you, it’s been the worst three years of my life since the attack!
In justifying his decision, Judge Dalmau briefly addressed the linguistic episode, stating that an institution refused to give the victim a forensic examination because his mother tongue was French.
During the 2022 trial, the victim and the officer from the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) accompanying him said they refused to admit the victim to the Montreal General Hospital because that hospital was the center designated to treat English-speaking victims of sexual assault. Francophones are cared for in the Notre-Dame hospital.
Journalists from Quebecor and the daily newspaper La Presse, who cover court cases, reported on the incident, which caused outrage among many. The Office of the Minister for French Language, Jean-François Roberge, called the case unacceptable and announced that the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) would launch an investigation.
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The Office of the Minister for French Language, Jean-François Roberge. (archive photo)
Photo: Radio Canada / Sylvain Roy Roussel
The McGill University Health Center (MUHC), to which Montreal General Hospital is affiliated, acknowledged that the decision was indeed unacceptable.
Rosalie tells me how she experienced what made the politicians and management of the MUHC jump up. I wanted it to end. I would have liked to be taken care of. In the General Hospital, I felt like garbage a second time. It’s as if they didn’t understand the meaning of the words “assault” and “sexuality.” I did not understand that in this moment of crisis, I am being rejected by being told: “Sorry, you do not speak the right language.”
Rosalie clearly remembers being angry when she went to another hospital with the police. I thought to myself: That makes no sense!
But besides what is outrageous, why did this happen? In fact, the explanation rests on one word: protocol.
In fact, as of this day in July 2020, staff at Montreal General Hospital were applying a protocol that was established in 1977 and is still in effect. Essentially, this protocol states that French-speaking victims of sexual assault must be treated in a dedicated hospital on the French-speaking network, while, conversely, English-speaking victims must be treated in a dedicated facility on the English-speaking network.
At the end of the line, Maryse Godin, who holds the title of Associate Director in the Emergency Department and Mental Health (Adult) Mission at McGill University Health Center, insists on a clarification.
Words are important to me. We did not refuse to look after this lady. We have redirected them as described in our protocols and this protocol is imposed on us.
The protocol is the protocol of the Montreal Center for Sexual Assault Victims, which asked us decades ago to help the English-speaking population who felt underserved at Notre-Dame Hospital, which was then the center for victims of sexual assault.
Maryse Godin states that patients in the MUHC network can be treated in French. These are not services in French. It’s a protocol.
More specifically, the Protocol was passed in 1977, the year Bill 101 was passed. It’s a protocol that’s completely outdated, but it’s a protocol that doesn’t belong to me: it’s a protocol that’s being forced on me, says Maryse Godin emphatically, adding that she has long wanted this protocol to be revised.
We have been informed by the Montreal Center for Victims of Sexual Assault that discussions have been initiated to revise the said protocol. Unfortunately, the organization could not tell us who is participating in this discussion.