Fredericton — A new misdeed has been added to the long list of reasons capital city cops can pull people over and ticket them: driving while French. Although New Brunswick is officially bilingual, police have expressed concerns over having to actually interact with francophones in their language of choice.
An officer pulled over four young women who were headed to Mactaquac on a recent sunny Sunday, and to his dismay, discovered that the women could not understand his English questions and demands.
“We can’t have francophones out running the roads when an unsuspecting English officer could risk pulling them over and being unable to communicate. It’s just not fair to the Fredericton police,” said the visibly shaken officer, who wished to remain anonymous because he fears for his safety. “So we’re just banning French people from driving, to be on the safe side. If you’re French, you can hitch a ride with an English or bilingual person, or take public transit. Or walk. It’s just common courtesy.”
The police officer was “totally humiliated” at being put in the awkward position of having to communicate with a French person. “I didn’t know what to do. I was terrified. Why should I have to ruin someone’s beach day in French, when I only feel comfortable doing so in English? I can say the ‘Hello/Bonjour’ greeting pretty well but after that I’m lost.
“I found it very rude — sometimes I feel like drivers don’t care at all about how the police might be affected by their decisions.”
The New Brunswick Police Act is being updated and provincial laws are being amended to explicitly ban driving while French. Many New Brunswick francophones have protested, citing blatant racism, but the cops say it’s not about that at all.
“Cops, as part of the job description, have to enter some very intimidating situations, and we don’t want to add to their trauma by asking them to speak both official languages when doing traffic stops,” said Const. Harry Vanderbilt of the Fredericton Police Force, who was called to the beach-day scene as backup. “The driver claimed not to understand English, but c’mon, she was probably just trying to talk — or not talk, I guess — her way out of a ticket for an expired registration.”
Vanderbilt explained that the police will now be keeping their eyes peeled for anyone eating a baguette or wearing a beret while driving, for anyone playing French radio stations in their car, for any driver with an Acadian-flag bumper sticker — any telltale signs that a francophone is driving when they ought to be at home studying English.
“This particular officer had the sense to go with his gut and just ticket her even though they couldn’t communicate, but next time he’ll be able to cut the confusion and just fine a Frenchy right away,” added Vanderbilt. “You’re welcome.”