The company that owns the Sobeys and IGA supermarket brands is scrambling to distance itself from a Montreal IGA location that has reportedly banned its staff from speaking English in the store, even amongst themselves.
In an exclusive story, CTV News reported that 17-year-old Meaghan Moran quit her job at an IGA in the Montreal suburb of Saint-Lambert after being given warnings for speaking English with co-workers at the store.
Moran surreptitiously recorded a conversation with two superiors.
“If we permit languages other than French to be spoken, what will happen in the employees’ room? We'll have a ghetto. We'll have a small group of Spanish, a small group of English,” one supervisor reportedly said on the recording.
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Marc Poulin, the CEO of Sobeys Inc., which also operates stores under the IGA label, said the store’s policy is “unacceptable” and “in no way reflects the position of the company.”
He told the National Post that the case was “an isolated incident that is related to one franchisee applying an internal policy that is not reflective of the policy of the company in any way, shape or form.”
Louise Menard, the franchisee who owns the IGA location, told CTV News the policy exists because she believes allowing employees to speak their own languages — be they English, Spanish or Russian — creates workplace tensions.
UPDATE: Menard's IGA has issued a press statement declaring that "there are no restrictions on speaking English (or any other language) in" the Saint-Lambert store.
"For Ms. Ménard, the desire is that a common language be used as the everyday workplace language in order to ensure optimal communication between employees within a same store, who often speak several languages," the statement read.
Menard also said that the French-only policy was a suggestion, not a rule — something that Moran disputes.
“I'm not going to talk to [customers] in English, I would talk to them in French — but if I want to talk to my friend on my break in English, I should be allowed,” Moran told CTV. “It's becoming too restrictive.”
A recorded message from the supermarket to CTV asserted that speaking French in the workplace is “the law” in Quebec, but that appears not to be the case.
A spokesperson for the Office quebecois de la langue francaise (Quebec’s so-called language police) told CTV News there is no law in Quebec mandating that employees speak only French in the workplace.
A similar situation took place in the U.S. recently when the upscale Whole Foods supermarket chain was criticized for an "English-only" policy that was seen as discriminatory towards Hispanics.
Faced with heavy criticism from consumer advocates and Hispanic activists, the company backtracked on the policy earlier this month.