French-language police slam Chelsea business with notice over Facebook page

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by Joel Balsam on February 26, 2014

Eva Cooper holds up the warning letter from Quebec's Office de la langue française that says the messages posted on her Delilah boutique Facebook page must be in French

Eva Cooper holds up the warning letter from Quebec’s Office de la langue française that says the messages posted on her Delilah boutique Facebook page must be in French.  Joel Balsam photo

Eva Cooper, owner of a small Chelsea boutique called Delilah in the Parc, has been served a notice from the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) ordering her to translate the posts on her business’s Facebook page into French or risk potential legal action. “I think they are opening up a can of worms,” said Cooper, who employs about 10 people in total at her stores in Chelsea and the Glebe. “If they wanna’ bring on the fight, bring it on.”

The notice obtained by the Low Down dated Feb. 7 was delivered to Cooper on Feb. 17 and gave her until Mar. 10 to respond and negotiate a timeline for corrections to be made. If she continues to object, she will be delivered a demand letter, which will carry consequences, such as a fine.

This comes just over a year after the infamous ‘pastagate’ scandal in Montreal where an Italian restaurant was notified by the OQLF – the governmental organization in charge of enforcing Bill 101 – to translate the word pasta into ‘pâtes’. Since then, the OQLF has promised to “triage” complaints and rule out allegations against businesses that are a waste of the bureau’s time. However, questionable complaints continue to make headlines across the province – there was a report made concerning a spoon with English writing on it, while another complaint was made against two hospital workers who were speaking Créole on their own time in Montreal.

In the Gatineau Hills, this is not the first time a commercial website has been targeted. In 2011, James Hargreaves, co-owner of the now defunct Boucanerie Chelsea Smokehouse, was notified that he had to create a French version of his website or risk a $1,000 fine. The OQLF has a long history of targeting businesses in the Hills, including in 1998, when the Low Down itself was threatened with legal action for taking a picture of an OQLF officer; and in 2005, Bob Rice of Bob’s Plumbing in Venosta was visited by a bailiff who threatened to seize his truck if he did not pay a $599 fine and $187 delivery charge because of an apostrophe that appeared in the word ‘Bob’s’. But this is the first time a report has been made concerning a commercial enterprise’s social media website being targeted by the OQLF, which begs the question: how formal does one need to be on social networks that are generally known for their casual tone?

“Ultimately, to me, Facebook has nothing to do with Quebec,” said Cooper, who uses Facebook as Delilah’s primary website. “It’s out of courtesy so people don’t have to come into town to see the new products … What about Pinterest or Twitter? Would I be able to do my text in English on Twitter?” she asks.

Jean-Pierre Le Blanc, spokesperson for the OQLF, said any communication that promotes a product in Quebec, whether it’s Facebook or not, must be in French. “If you talk to your friends, it’s not a problem, but if it’s the sale or promotion of a product or service, [it must be in French],” he said in French. Le Blanc could not comment specifically on the notice that Cooper received as it is not public, but said it was rare for any of these complaints to amount to a fine. “Ninety-five per cent of notices will be agreed upon by the person or company,” he said.

In the rare cases where they don’t agree, the OQLF passes on the case to the Directeur des poursuites criminelles et pénales – the organization responsible for enforcing the Criminal Code – which will enforce a punishment such as a fine or seizure of property.

For Facebook’s part, if the Directeur des poursuites decides to go the route of asking the social network used by 1.23 billion people worldwide to take the page down, it would have to prove that the site is in violation of Facebook’s Community Standards, which prohibit the use of graphic content, hate speech, spam, or harassment, but don’t include anything pertaining to language laws. In extreme cases, Facebook has the power to block the IP address of the page in a specific area or country if it violates the law there.

“How far can you present yourself freely without being told you have to put it into French?” asked Noel Gates, President of the Regional Association of West Quebecers, an English-advocacy organization. He said the allegations against Delilah in the Parc are “a bit disturbing,” but not surprising in light of the Quebec government’s policy on businesses that operate in English. “Is this another system of gradual extension of French-only? I don’t know, but it could be,” said Gates.

Cooper, who employs French-speaking staff and has signage in compliance with Bill 101, has asked for a copy of the letter in English. “I want to make sure I understand. And let’s be honest, what they say in English could be very different from French,” she said.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Sophie February 26, 2014 at 7:54 pm

I think it’s interesting that the language police is trying to enforce Facebook. Facebook won’t take the page down – unless there is something pretty disturbing on it – but I doubt it! Facebook is not going to start enforcing extra-judicial matters as a point of precedent. My only concern would be her getting a fine and having to fight to remove it. Good luck – stay strong and I support & salut you!

avatar barry February 27, 2014 at 5:43 pm

as I wrote on Eva’s FB page…..she or someone should file a complain to the OLF about Celine Dion’s FB page. It’s not only personal things she’s posting, but she invites the public to go to see her shows in Las Vegas, but her CDs, etc. So to make it perfectly clear, let the OLF go after Celine and Mark Zuckerberg and demand that the page be taken down or at least be translated into French or fine Celine! Maybe then will Celine move out all her business dealings like Productions Feeling and Schwartz’s out of Quebec and into a freindlier atmosphere!!

avatar J February 27, 2014 at 8:10 pm

WHY the hell do we have to do by them!!!! They sure don’t do by us I “DON’T SPEAK FRENCH” if i go to QUEBEC side they don’t have their Signs in English and French “NO” it’s ALL FRENCH and when i go in to a store here even all they speak first is french, want to speak French stay in Quebec.We can’t go over there to work unless we have a permit!! but they can work here without one why is that too…Thats my OPTION! on QUEBEC~~~

avatar spoofto February 27, 2014 at 10:41 pm

well, if I have a facebook page, and I own a store in Quebec, I want to call it The OQLF Sucks Store. Would I be allowed to translate that in French?

avatar brenda February 28, 2014 at 9:21 am

Quebec is still part of Canada. Does the freedom of speech apply to Quebec? Or does Quebec have its own Charter of Rights and Freedom.

avatar Phil February 28, 2014 at 7:36 pm

its at what point do we say that facebook should be personal

avatar S. Gibeault March 1, 2014 at 4:11 pm

Pre-election divisiveness strategies? Let’s not feed it nor should we tolerate it. Thanks.

avatar Mike March 1, 2014 at 6:03 pm

Hi. I just don’t go to Quebec any more. There not interested in speakingt to me and basically rude. So why spend any money there .
I would rather go to NY state and that’s what we do on weekends.
It’s time to move on. There sinking themselves.

avatar AC March 12, 2014 at 9:55 am

First, let’s be clear here, Quebec does not only have french speaking citizens. Second, divisive tactics by politicaly entangled parties only work because the apathetic majority do not bother to vote or speak out enough. If the they did, Quebec would not have language laws. The reality is for the moment, they do. As an individual your rights are protected in quebec like anywhere else on the whole. If you own a business, your business and it’s practices must comply with the laws of the land including language laws. Luckily, these laws can be changed (if the majority does their civic duty). It does not matter where your business is promoting it’self. What matters is that when it does, it does so in compliance with the laws. As an agent of the business, she has no special right then anyone else to defy the law. Civil disobediance is always an option, but she’ll lose her business. I understand the need to protect the language as it is a major vehicle for culture and must be protected to protect the french speaking community (at least, that use to be the case, today the legal bases for these laws are defunct and would likely no longer be sufficiant). No government should stop individuals from expressing themselves (there own ideas), but I see no issue with limitations on purely commercial enterprises (as expressed by individuals as agents of the businesses). Technicaly, If I where to go on her page and overwhelmingly promote her business in english, they could do nothing other than to have the business block me or shut the page down. If I did the same thing on my own page, the government could do nothing and neither could the business other than pursue me in court for defamation or some other commercial protection statute. Ultimately, the business is responsible for complying with existing laws. Once a law has been passed (legislation etc.) it can and should be enforced (otherwise it should not exist to begin with). But again, the people need to participate in their democracy if they want to change things. Non-Quebecers have just as many issues to deal with as quebec, so perhaps they should spend little more time on their own affairs and stay out of Quebec’s business until they are done with their own.

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