Mayor Jim Watson heckled over bilingualism stand

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson was heckled for his views on bilingualism during an event that celebrated the 20th anniversary of a rally to save Montfort Hospital.

Watson was invited to speak at the Wednesday night celebration held 20 years after the S.O.S. Montfort event at the same location — then called the Civic Centre. Watson was among the 10,000 people who attended the 1997 event.

On Wednesday, inside the renamed TD Place arena, a clamour rose up in the audience as master of ceremonies Ronald Caza, a lawyer and former director of Montfort Hospital, introduced Watson as one of the most popular mayors in Canada.

Some people whistled loudly, while others chanted "bilingual Ottawa" in French as Watson spoke.

The City of Ottawa's bilingualism bylaw recognizes the bilingual character of the city and says services will be available in both languages. Watson has repeatedly said the city doesn't need any further bilingual rules.

In French, Watson told the crowd of about 4,000 people the 1997 rally wasn't just about supporting the hospital — it was also a call to protect the rights of Ontario's Francophone minority.

"I remember the evening very well and I am pleased to have participated," he said in French.

Watson was only able to quiet the crowd when he began to list the names of Francophone Montfort supporters, including Gisèle Lalonde (who was president of the S.O.S. Montfort movement from 1997 to 2002), the late Mauril Bélanger and Caza.

The mayor ended his speech by declaring March 22 Franco-Ontarian solidarity day.

Others greeted with standing ovation

A few minutes later, Lalonde and Michelle de Courville Nicol, a former chair of Montfort Hospital's board of directors, took to the stage and were greeted with applause that lasted several minutes.

Archive footage showing the 1997 rally, which marked the birth of the S.O.S. Montfort movement, was also projected on a large screen.

Lalonde, visibly moved, held up a green and white Franco-Ontarian flag and received a standing ovation.

Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury closed the series of speeches, thanking Lalonde and Nicol, followed by performances from Francophone musicians including Moonfruits, Damien Robitaille and Robert Paquette and YAO.