Finally, allowing French accents on health cards is not the most pressing issue facing Ontario’s healthcare system right now, with emergency care from hospitals going through temporary closures and patients trying to find doctors.
But for French speakers, it’s an important gesture that hits the heart of their identity.
The Ford government announced Wednesday that French characters, such as those with accents, will be allowed on Ontario health cards as the province continues to integrate French into the government’s official identifier.
Residents with French names can update their maps for free by visiting a ServiceOntario location.
The progressive Conservative government says residents can now have the correct French spelling of their name on the most commonly used identity cards. In 2020, the province has started allowing Ontario driver’s licenses and photo cards with French characters.
The government needs nearly two more years to include a health map as the Ontario Department of Health needs to focus on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, ministry spokesman WD Lighthall said.
There is no additional cost for the government to produce an accented ID, said a spokesman for the Ministry of Public Services and Business.
Including language characters helps correct a frustrating reality for people with names that have accents, but who haven’t seen their real names on that important provincial document.
Marie Clémence Brou, communications and marketing manager for Alliance Française Ottawa, said she will be moving from Gatineau to Ontario in November and will need a new ID issued by the Ontario government. He said he appreciated the Ontario government’s move to allow French accents on ID.
“Our identities will be more complete,” said Brou.
Brou says it might be “inconvenient” to mispronounce her name, so she only uses Marie instead of her full first name Marie Clémence to prevent people from mispronouncing it. Sometimes she worries that she will have to raise people trying to pronounce her full name from ID.
People with accents in their names have an ordeal when it comes to filling out forms, says Brou. It’s important that databases store accents after people write their names on computer-submitted forms, he said.
“I was very surprised to see my name changed after filling out the paperwork online,” said Brou.
Soukaïna Boutiyeb, president of the Association des Communautés Francophones d’Ottawa, said she stopped using an accent in her first name because it never matched the name on her provincial ID card.
Not even many people know that there is an accent in his name.
“And that’s the problem,” said Boutiyeb, calling changing the county to include the accent “a big deal.”
“As a francophone community, we are indeed a minority, but we want to be seen and at least our names are spelled correctly,” said Boutiyeb.
Boutiyeb noted that French-Ontarians have been arguing about including accents in provincial government documents for years. He said they had supported the Nickel Belt NDP MPP France Gélinas, who started a petition in 2019 to include accents while the province updated its computer system.
It’s also an opportunity for other communities, not just francophones, to have the accents properly printed on their IDs, said Boutiyeb.
Samuel Coeytaux, director of the Alliance Française Ottawa, which offers language classes and cultural programs, said accents on government badges should be unusual in a bilingual country, especially when French is one of the two official languages.
Dropping accents in French words and names is starting to become more common as computer and smartphone use increases, says Coeytaux, but now keyboards on both types of devices allow accenting easily.
Coeytaux says that removing accents when writing French in capital letters is also acceptable, given that people use typewriters without the ability to add accents.
When the accent is removed from a name, “it’s not your name in the end,” he says.
“It’s the little things that symbolically make the big difference,” Coeytaux said.