Monday, February 15, 2010

Quebec English Only Web Sites-A Tempest in a Teapot.

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.

The newspaper article targets retailer URBAN OUTFITTERS as an example of a company not in compliance. The article states that the company operates a web site,, 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.


  1. I like the expression "Tempest in a teapot", I was not yet aware of it.

    It could be translated in French by the expression: "Une tempête dans un verre d'eau."

  2. Really well written article! I was wondering what had happened to their website since I loved online shopping on it.

    P.S. the proxylord doesn't work well

  3. Office québécois de la langue française are way tooo much, im a french canadian but fuck... if we wanna go at home on an english website for shopping online why cant we?... everything is f***** english on internet except for totally against it

  4. I'm also french canadian and I'm gonna boycott UO from now on since they don't value our money. They make tons of cash in our province and that's the way they repay us?! F*ck them.

  5. Umm let me see if I understand you Lirolooum. Because Urban Outfitters sells clothes on the internet on a english site, you will boycott their products? I think you need to set your priorities strait.

    Also, when you say "They make tons of cash IN our province..." that's not the issue here, its clearly stated that it has nothing to do with the product sold IN the province but rather the products sold online to people in Quebec.

  6. Thank you for this article.
    When I tried to visit (which I like to do on a regular basis), I had no idea something so unjustified had happened.
    I am a french canadian, and although I love my language, I'm also proud to be able to switch from french to english whenever I feel like it or need to.

    I find it is ignorant of the OQLF to believe that they can control the internet.

  7. impactfan, I think you misunderstood.
    He/she intends to boycott because of UO's reaction. They are talking about the company. Not the store, not the product.

    By providing a french website they would said they value Québec customers.

  8. This is insane to me. The rest of Canada thinks Quebec is a bunch of commies because of this, not to mention the whole Charest (idk how to spell his name) budget. We used to tell jokes about quebec's irish pubs being shut down for having irish names (instead of french ones...) and this seems just as bad. How do shops in china town operate? This whole thing is nuts, like really, why does anybody care?

    poor french isn't gunna be spoken anymore? Who cares?, if everyone changes to english, then obviously everybody was on board, or they wouldn't have learned it. Besides, quebec is slowly turning french into a clickity inaudible joke of a language.

    Stop trying to change the world, and just let things happen (it's not like their doing so well at the moment; my hometown of montreal is a complete mess - mob running the city, everything decrepit and dirty, and whores everywhere. Maybe english would be a good thing?

  9. I tried from work on Winnipeg based servers and works fine, not from home thought. Laws are made to protect people, not prevent them the liberty to shop where they chose and in what language.

    Ce n'est pas un site internet d'une compagnie de vêtement américaine en anglais qui va me faire perdre ma langue de Molière.

    C'est pourquoi, à mon avis, on est un petit peuple...on n'arrive pas à bien vivre avec la complexité de 2 réalités linguistiques.

    I am french and english, quebecer and canadian.

    Let me shop where I want...maudite marde.

    (whats left...Abercrombie and Fitch and double the price...)

  10. It's extremely frustrating and obnoxious being blocked from a site for this reason. I want to browse this damn website, but oops... I can't... jerks.

  11. Just a quick word to say that the "Prix d'Autriche" is actually the "Prix d'AutrUche" with a U. AutrIche is Austria, while an "autrUche" is an ostrich. ;)

  12. Wow I had been wondering for a while why the UO website was blocked.

    Lirolooum: I don't think UO blocked their website because they don't value your money; it's more likely that they don't want to get sued by the OQLF/deal with their idiotic complaints.

    This is just as stupid as their recent ad campaign with the message "Merci de me servir en francais" F**k that. I am the customer here and I want to choose whatever language I would like to be served in, whether it be French, English, or Chinese. If not I'll take my business somewhere else.

    Those people at OQLF are a big reason why this province is NOT progressing. A lot of retailers or products hesitate coming into Quebec because of the language law.

  13. But my biggest concern is... Someone found a way to access the web site? Even if I can't buy anything, I would like to have a look... Let me know!

  14. To access the website ,you just have to jump to this site: , then type , then click on the button . Im so sad that the site is blocked... :(

  15. Just leave that sorry province and get on with life somewhere decent.
    Let 'em sink or swim on their own. When they deal with anybody outside their precious quebec borders they have to speak english!


  16. blocking a site because in quebec because it is not in french.
    no wonder this province will never advance.

  17. You will all be happy to know that UO has just hired a translator for not only the website but for all documents and training materials. The company is also planning on having french books in the Quebec city store which will probably mean the Montreal stores will be getting them as well. I have no idea when the website will be completed but am assuming it is a priority. We as employees of UO are also frustrated with not having access to the website!!!!

  18. I do understand the need for the website to be in French and in English, but if I want to be able to access the Ontario or the American website, I believe I (should) have that right.

    A simple note at the bottom of those sites could simply state that online shopping is not available to Quebec residents, but to deny me access to any of the sites just isn't right.

  19. I live in BC and I am blocked from the website, this is extremely frustrating. All of Canada blocked because of the Quebec Language Police?! I didn't even take french in high school, I took SPANISH! Argh... or shall I say `Le sigh`

  20. they do this in north korea and saudi arabia, you know...

  21. OQLF needs to stop hunting for english witches. I'm an english woman living in Aylmer Quebec. They have NO right to tell me what I can and cannot look at online. I'm so effing sick of language wars. OQLF does not represent MY Quebec.
    If you're smart you'll realize this too.

  22. Can't believe it can be that much of a pain to translate a damn website... It's not like someone needs to be sitting there all year round for it. Feals to me like someone at UO just got pissed off and decided to make a point

  23. I can see it being much more then a simple translation.

    Artwork may have to be altered. Site structure has to change to accomidate a language system. Site maintenance will cost a lot more. You may have to worry about the quality of the french site vs. the english.

    OR... You can block the extreme nationalist province that would rather not do business with 'the english speaking'.

    Saying 'not available in Quebec' has been around for a while in marketing. How is this news?

  24. i live in Ontario but am a francophone, so both my phone and laptop are set up in French. because of this, i am also blocked from using the website. what gives??

    1. It's not just you, I'm not a francophone but am blocked though I live in very western Ontario. I guess they blocked a lot of Canada.

  25. Anthropologie's website was also blocked for this same reason and has a similar page in QC as Urban Outfitters.

  26. The Quebec French Police can kiss my English Canadian "You Know What". I am English Through and Through. Been living in Quebec my whole life. Got a french last name. The French Police iterate the
    xxx out of me. They can go dance with the devil for all I care. If I want to run a English business then I should be able to do so. It's just as bad as when black people were told what to do. Ok maybe not that bad but you get my point. We are suppose to be free in Canada, Where is the freedom when you are not allowed to have a site only written in the English language. Have they ever taken a look at the darn code of any site in the world. It's all English. They are so retarded it makes my head hurt thinking about it. My retarded people on in Canada. I know French people I like but the French police I wish would burn in hell for what they are doing to the English people. We have rights, and they are stripping us of them. To all the English out there who might read this Protest. Protest loudly. Make a big stink about this, we have rights too.

  27. I'm an anglo living in quebec and trying to get a site up and running in both languages, it is a much more complicated process than just translating, most website creating companies don't offer a bilingual template and a lot of time and effort has to go into getting everything to change over to another language, pictures can't have text on them, there are a lot more words needed in french to say the same thing as in english so often button sizes, text box sizes are a problem.....

    I have made the effort to learn french and speak it fluently but i believe that in a country that is supposed to be bilingual we should have the choice to speak and make websites in english, if we decide to not capitalise on the french population that should be our choice.....

  28. How is this different from other extremists - denying others freedom; preventing people from making their own choices; trying to control people (e.g. ISIS)?