It seems that the story about the Hudson watchmaker and his English only web site has created quite a stir amongst French language nationalists who have set off a full blown witch hunt aimed at outing companies that don't offer French web sites while operating in Quebec.
The truth is that despite all the braying, there's little to complain about.
Before I go on, I must go on record as saying that the practice of any large company operating retail establishments in Quebec and who don't offer a comparable web-site in French is just plain wrong and unfair (and stupid.)
That being said, small home-based business's that sell products overseas can be safely ignored.The truth be told, the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) has already sounded a conciliatory note in the affair of our friend, Darryl Lesser and at any rate, I'm sure that with the OQLF's limited resources, there are bigger fish to fry.
It seems that the OQLF can't win no matter what. French language militants are absolutely furious that the OQLF tries to apply the language rules as humanely as possible. If you're an Anglo militant, you'd probably disagree, but it is a truth, and one that I must defend.
The Mouvement Montréal français(MMF,) in awarding lemon and laurel prizes to those who have, in their opinion, contributed or detracted from the protection of the French language in Quebec, discerned a Prix D'Autruche (ostrich) to France
Boucher, president of the OQLF,
for having deliberately concealed the state of the situation of the French language in Quebec( according to them.)
According to these radicals the OQLF is not nearly aggressive enough in pursuing English 'offenders.' of Bill 101.
And so militant French language busy bees are doing the OQLF's work by scouring the Internet for English only websites. Unfortunately for them, other than home-based businesses, as in the case of our intrepid watchmaker, they are few and far between.
An article in La Presse sounds a false alarm that the situation is wildly out of control. It cites the 350 complaints a year number that are directed to the OQLF, directly related to English-only web-sites.
The article in question cited just two or three examples of offending companies and
this, after what was surely a great deal of research. A reasonable
person would conclude that the 'problem' is anything but widespread.
Most of the complaints sent to the watchdog agency are duplicates and the actual number of contraveners is actually quite minuscule.
Typically the OQLF is forced to take legal action in less than ten percent of the cases it opens. So this 'colossal' problem of English only websites shrinks to just a handful of cases in a province with tens of thousands of commercial web-sites.
Digging a little deeper into the problem, we find that most of the bigger companies who contravene the rule, are relatively new to the province and have a tiny presence in comparison to their other North American operations. Some are ignorant of the law and take remedial action as soon as they are contacted.
urbanoutfitters.com, without a comparable French version and that in reaction to a warning letter from the OQLF, decided to block access to the English site for Quebec customers.
The web site directs Quebec customers away from the online boutique to a page that invites viewers to visit it's two Quebec retail stores. The effect of this, is to deprive Quebec clients the option of shopping online.
If you live outside Quebec, you won't get the message shown in the picture, to the right.
Of course for those intent on shopping online, the block is not much of a barrier, as one can always surf anonymously and hide one's location by using an anonymous surfing portal such as HideMyAss .
Ironically, if Urban Outfitters didn't operate it's two locations in Quebec, they wouldn't fall under the jurisdiction of the Quebec government and shoppers from La Belle Province would be able to shop online to their hearts content, all in English!
In Urban Outfitters defence, the company doesn't even have a Canadian website and services their Canadian clients through a "North American" gateway, which is of course in English and run out of the USA.
Does it pay them to operate a French only site for Quebec Francophones? Probably not, or they would likely provide one, after all, they are a business.
The whole problem of English only websites has been greatly exaggerated and it's really just a tempest in a teapot, brewed by French language militants eager for the next big confrontation.
There are precious few large companies which don't offer a French web site. We shouldn't let the small fry get caught up in the crossfire.
When companies do contravene the rule, almost all are quick to take action. Sometimes as in the case of Urban Outfitters, the remedy is extremely humiliating to the Quebec government and to the OQLF. On the other hand Urban Outfitters will have to live with the fallout.
I'm afeared there's a boycott a'brewin.