Friday, October 23, 2009

Amateur French Langauge "Inspectors" Gone Wild

Bill 101, the Quebec law related to advertising among other things, is quite clear. French must be predominant in all public advertisements, including billboards, bus shelters, stores, public buildings, and within bus and metro cars and stations. The law is pretty comprehensive and even covers advertisements painted on vehicles. There are some exceptions, but the implementation of the law has had the effect of making almost all public advertising unilingually French, even though English is allowed in an inferior proportion. Most companies have completely abandoned any effort to serve English customers in their own language, even in areas where Anglophones make up over 70% of their customers.

The law makes for some pretty ridiculous situations. When the CTV television affiliate in Montreal advertises an English television show on a billboard, it must do so in French.
A theatre company advertising a play presented in English, must post in French.

The OQLF, the organization that is charged with applying the law in relation to the protection of the French language, has a somewhat strange policy. It only undertakes an investigation of an alleged offense when someone complains and so, it is dependent on the public to police any violations of the law.

The policy of asking citizens to squeal on each other is generally unpopular in Western society, but stooling suits the mentality of French language militants to a tee, they actually relish the opportunity to rat out the hated Anglos.
The OQLF makes it easy to complain, providing a simple form that can be downloaded online, complete with the promise of confidentiality, which is probably unnecessary considering that most voluntary language inspectors are proud to have their name connected with a complaint.

And so, a dedicated cabal of self-deputized private French language inspectors patrol the streets and highways, public transport, public spaces, web sites, stores and buildings in search of language law transgressions.
Every advertisement is scrutinized, every product instruction booklet studied for spelling errors and faulty use of French, every sign in every store whether on the street and or in a shopping mall is dissected ad nauseam.

Ask any chain store head office about the many complaints they receive each week over the smallest of errors.

If you think I'm overstating the truth I'd like to share two articles published this week.

The first one, submitted by Marc-Antoine Daneau was printed in, where you can read the original French post.

Concordia - Rhodesian Arrogance

"I'd like to draw your attention to the recent advertisements placed by Concordia University in Montreal's Atwater Metro station.
What's remarkable about these ads is that they are entirely in English, and they show the greatest contempt for Quebeckers and especially Bill 101, which governs the display language in Quebec.
Concordia University cannot plead ignorance in this matter, nor the Société de transport de Montreal which has approved the ads. They deliberately ignore the will of the people surrounding commercial signs and are contributing to Anglicization and Canadianization in Quebec.

I ask all those who receive this email to do whatever is in their power to remove
Concordia University's
absurd English advertisements."

How about that headline!
Equating Concordia University with racist Rhodesia of the 1960's because they put up a English advertisement, it's a but much.

What's most interesting about this rant, aside from it's entertainment value, is the fact that Mr. Danneau doesn't really know what he's talking about. In fact, it is he who is ignorant of the law and not the University.

This post made the rounds of nationalists web sites, stirring up all sorts of outrage. Over at Le Quebecois, another ultra radical nationalist web-site, the story was re-printed with a comment attached that congratulated the writer on his article, but proceeded to correct him over a minor French error in the poster's text! (I told you so!)

Righteous indignation over Concordia's advertisements was the order of the day until someone pointed out that the ads were perfectly legal.

Yup, it seems educational institutions are exempt from the language law.

Not to be discouraged, a new theme was launched, one that demanded that the law be changed. Okaaay!

This next item, originally posted in La Presse, also appeared in

Entitled "An English Advertisement Shocks Citizens," it complains about a bus shelter ad placed by the music retailer HMV. The complainer took issue with the English, as you can see in the picture to the right.
In response to the complaint, a spokeswoman for the company defended the ad by claiming that it represented a global advertising campaign and that the ad appears the same way in every country including France.
"The t-shirt on the poster is sold worldwide with the same English inscription," says Ms. Shankland. "In terms of the overlay 'Fashion Against AIDS', it is the trademark of the collection. It did not have to be translated. "

I guess this is what happens when ultra militant volunteers, untrained and uninformed as to the provisions of law, are set loose.
English bookstores are constantly assailed by French language militants for posting English signs, even though they too are covered by an exemption.

Over the years, my company has been the beneficiary of many complaints about products we sold that contravened the language law in one sense or another, even though almost all were produced by third parties.
The letters and emails complaining about the treatment of French almost always started out along the same lines.

"I'm shocked at the disrespect displayed by your company..blah...blah."
"Your company is insulting Francophones...blah...blah."
"I am humiliated that your company..blah...blah.."
"It's outrageous that your company...blah...blah.."

When we advised the complainers that we would pass on their comments to the manufacturer and make sure that corrective action was undertaken in the future, it didn't seem to satisfy the them, some demanding that the products be pulled from shelves, sometimes because of a spelling mistake.
Finally, we stopped writing back.

The law respecting signage has already frightened the advertising agencies that control the bulk of public advertising in Quebec into eliminating English from public signs completely and so the voluntary French language inspectors are left to complain about nonsense.

The occasional handwritten "Help Wanted" or "Barmaid Wanted" sign in a local bar is what they are left to bitch about.

It's petty and it's sad and it is the Quebec reality.


  1. Most Quebeckers feel threatened by the MEAN English language. No wonder why they make such a drama for a little ad here and there...

  2. Re: Gen's comment

    A language cannot be mean. A language does not have intent, mal or otherwise. A language cannot threaten.

  3. Je voudrais faire une plainte contre les formulaires en ligne offert par l'Office. C'est quoi "Word 2000"? Pourquoi pas "Mot 2000"?