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Some employees at the Montreal Heart Institute claim they're being harassed for not speaking enough French.

At least three people have approached anti-racism group CRARR, saying they've been targeted for speaking in either Spanish or Arabic in private conversations on their breaks.

“Many of these minority workers feel that they're being policed, feeling like they're under constant scrutiny and working in a very toxic environment,” said CRARR director Fo Niemi.

One Arabic-speaking employee, who did not want to be identified, said his supervisor told him that if everyone at the institute spoke a different language it would be “anarchy.”

He said he was told if he wanted to speak anything other than French, he should do so on his own time.

The hospital said there is no policy prohibiting other languages than French in private conversations. It does insist on French when discussing patient care among staff.

“Mainly we are concerned by security and quality of care” said Liza O’Doherty, the Montreal Heart Institute’s director of nursing. “But otherwise, when people are on their break or on their lunchtime, they're allowed to speak the language they want and patients can be treated here in other languages other than French. There's no problem with that.”

One employee said he received a written warning from his supervisor for speaking Arabic during a private conversation. The hospital said it appears to be an isolated incident.

The hospital is investigating the complaints and wants to know if the employees were the victims of an overzealous manager.

Even if they were, language watchdog the OQLF says that person would have crossed a line.

“The French charter does not apply to private conversation even if it’s at work,” said OQLF spokesperson Julie Letourneau.

The heart institute will discuss whether it needs to make any changes to its language policy at its next board meeting next week.