Need help with a letter or resumé? Mile End library has enlisted a retired judge to help

·3 min read
Suzanne Coupal says that knowing she is a retired judge helps clients know they can trust her with personal information. (Submitted by Suzanne Coupal - image credit)
Suzanne Coupal says that knowing she is a retired judge helps clients know they can trust her with personal information. (Submitted by Suzanne Coupal - image credit)

A centuries-old profession is being revived at the Mordecai-Richler Library in Montreal's Mile End neighbourhood.

For three months, retired judge Suzanne Coupal is available as a public writer through the library, helping Montrealers put their thoughts into words.

The job may conjure images of a modern-day Cyrano de Bergerac ghostwriting love letters over Zoom — but Coupal says one of the most common requests is for assistance navigating government paperwork.

"We are living in a world of forms," Coupal told CBC Montreal's Daybreak. "It's not easy to understand sometimes what is asked with these documents."

How to get the help of a public writer

Those who would like help from Coupal can make an appointment for a session by contacting the library by phone at 514-872-2141 or by emailing questionreferenceplateau@gmail.com. They are then scheduled for a one-hour video chat session with Coupal.

Clients provide scanned copies of documents, or can show them via their camera during the session. The service is free.

While the job has existed for hundreds of years in Europe, it's something of a novelty in Montreal. Coupal hopes that the program will be popular enough to continue beyond the three months of the pilot project.

"We're trying to figure out what they need, and we're trying to put the words that they want on a form, on a letter, on a tribute, on anything that they need," said Coupal.

Clients feeling isolated

Many clients so far have been immigrants, Coupal said, and the service is available to anyone — whether they're trying to polish their resumé for a job application, sign up for health care or write a speech.

And with the pandemic keeping so many Montrealers feeling isolated, Coupal says the gratitude from clients that she's there to listen is evident.

She recalled one woman telling her that she'd be able to get a good night's sleep for the first time in a month after being assisted.

"The questions that she was asking were very simple. So I understood that she had nobody to help her," Coupal said.

But the writing can sometimes be personal, too, like a man who wanted help writing a speech to send off a colleague who was leaving their organization. Coupal helped him organize his thoughts, and then he called back to read the speech to her.

"He came back two weeks after, he read it to me and it was very good," she said.

Knowing it's a former judge can be reassuring to people since they're often dealing with sensitive or confidential information, she said.

And she says her time as a judge helped her understand human psychology, allowing her to figure out what kind of help the person needs.

"As a criminal judge, we don't receive a lot of thanks at the end of the day," she said. "I'm very happy to see that I can help."