Jennifer Plotnick, a recent graduate from the McGill Faculty of Dentistry, has found herself with an unenviable commute due to Quebec’s language requirements. After failing to meet the French language requirements for out-of-province professionals, Plotnick now drives nearly two hours every morning to practice dentistry in Plattsburgh, New York.
As an out-of-province student who studied at an English-language university, Plotnick was required to pass an exam administered by the Quebec Board of the French Language to prove her proficiency in French. This test prevents new professionals who lack French proficiency from obtaining permits to work in the province.
Dr. Paul Allison, dean of the Faculty of Dentistry, said that students are encouraged to study for this test during their university years.
“We make it very clear to all of our students,” Allison said. “If they want to practice in this province and they’re from out of the province, then they have to learn French and they have to [pass] the exams to be able to practice in the province.”
Plotnick, an American citizen, transferred to McGill with two years left in her degree and found it somewhat difficult to learn French on the McGill campus, where English is primarily spoken. She maintained, however, that she felt confident in her ability to speak French and deal with French-speaking patients.
“I actually learned a bunch of French,” Plotnick said. “I can actually speak French quite well, but not enough to pass an exam, which I think is really arbitrary.
“It’s known to be an exam that people don’t feel displays the kind of French that you know – it doesn’t show what you can do, in terms of speaking, in terms of writing.”
Because she was unable to pass the test while still in school and again after the required three-month waiting period, Plotnick is now in an uncomfortable situation trying to pay down her dental school debt.
“I just couldn’t take [any more time] off to learn French,” she said. “Because unfortunately when you go into dental school, you accrue a lot of debt, and with debt come monthly interest payments.”
Plotnick said she is frustrated, but recognizes the need for the requirement.
“I see what their point is,” she said. “They basically don’t want a bunch of English professionals to come here and just not work in French at all and not be able to speak French.”
The law is part of The Charter of French Language, or Bill 101, which holds that people who work in any of the 45 regulated professions in the province must speak French.
Martin Bergeron, a spokesperson for the Quebec Board of the French Language, explained that this is the law and that it is the duty of his office to uphold it.
“The law states that you need to learn French to work in a professional corporation in Quebec,” Bergeron said.
Though the law may be clear, there are numerous gaps that make it easier for some people to obtain the required permit to work in Quebec. Quebeckers from English high schools and CEGEPs are presumed be proficient in French and are not required to pass the exam. Foreign-trained professionals coming to Quebec are eligible for up to three temporary permits over four years, allowing them to learn French while working in the province.
Anglophone students who graduate from an English-language university in Quebec are required to take this exam immediately after graduation. However, there is no possibility of securing the temporary work permits enjoyed by foreign-trained professionals.
Plotnick has tried to use this experience to inform other Anglophone students studying in Quebec by starting a Facebook group titled, “English speaking McGill grads for an equal chance to work in Montreal.”
“It would be a great warning to anyone at McGill to understand that if things aren’t changed and they ever plan on staying in Montreal, take French courses now,” she said.