I can't think of a better metaphor than the above 'Smoke and Mirrors' to describe the reports issued last week by the OQLF describing the language situation in relation to the retail trade in Montreal.
It took quite a while for me to get through the pages because like a student's essay, aiming to fulfill a minimum word count, the reports were long on superfluous, duplicate and useless information.
Really, did we need a diagram indicating what foot path an inspector took while visiting a department store and was it germane to include the fact the inspector started from the top floor and worked his/her way down?
|OQLF- This is how we walk around a room|
But despite the padding, the reports were more interesting, not for what they included, but rather what they did not, but more on that a little later.
First point of course, is the credibility of any report emanating from the OQLF itself, an organization that ceases to have meaning, should itself determine that the French language not be in danger, thus rendering its existence redundant. Under that circumstance, it's hard to imagine the OQLF ever declaring French out of trouble, even if it were so.
Instead of handing off the study to an impartial third party, the OQLF itself produced the report in-house, setting the terms, training and deploying inspectors and putting together the final report.
Like the Church preparing a report on the existence of God, even with the best intentions, it is hard to take the conclusions other than with a grain of salt.
I'm not going to bore you with an exhaustive critique, which in the end leaves the readers with information overload. I will dwell on just two points, those points, which in my opinion, render the reports discredited. My first concern is that the OQLF starts off with a faulty basic premise and my second concern is its failure to honestly present the data.
The faulty assumption is of course, the idea that a store without a French descriptor in its 'English name' is in violation of Bill 101, we've gone through this before, it just isn't true.
In the thirty-five years since the introduction of Bill 101, the OQLF has bound over in the neighborhood of 2,000 files for prosecution in relation to recalcitrant violators of the language law.
NOT ONE of these prosecutions has ever been undertaken in relation to a company using an English trademark without a French modifier appended to its trade name.
In thirty-five years, no company, to my knowledge, has ever received a 'mise en demure' (demand letter) from the OQLF demanding that it add a descriptor to its trademark.
If I am wrong about the legality of descriptors (which I am not,) I would ask defenders of the OQLF to explain why the organization has failed to take any legal action against any company, when it has pursued legal action for other violations.
Is it because the OQLF is afraid to take on a multinational with deep pockets, companies which have already received legal opinions that in relation to descriptors, the OQLF hasn't a leg to stand on?
You know, I cannot remember the OQLF taking any multinational company to court over any aspect of Bill 101. If they did, it is likely that there were very few cases.
No, as far as I'm concerned, the OQLF prefers to pursue small-fries, those they can bully with impunity.
Not true? So why do new cars continue to be delivered with pictograms AND English-only labeling on the dashboard?
Why is it that in Quebec, new cars can be delivered with English-only dashboards, while TOY CARS cannot be delivered with play dashboards in English? Such is the nonsensical world of the OQLF.
Perhaps it is because big car companies have told the OQLF to piss off, that if the Quebec government demands special labeling for Quebec bound new cars, consumers would have to pay hundreds of dollars extra to pay for it, with the specter of Quebecers buying cheaper cars in Ontario, a frightening scenario that would lead to, you guessed it, the need for more restrictive laws, banning the practice.
At any rate, I will again remind readers that in 2001 the OQLF received a legal opinion that any attempt to force modifications on copyrighted trademarks would violate international copyright law.
The OQLF continues to perpetrate this myth, refusing to comment on the controversy, preferring to ignore realty like a toddler sticking her fingers in her ears, shouting "I CAN'T HEAR YOU! I CAN'T HEAR YOU!'
So once this false premise is offered as one of the cornerstones of these language reports, the conclusions become tainted, or as they say in court, "The fruit of the poisonous tree"
In the Highlights report, we are told that 72% of downtown businesses are, according to the OQLF, in complete compliance with the law, including the store name and the interior and exterior signage.
Then we are told that 83% of stores have a store name that conforms to the law, meaning of course, that 17% of downtown store have 'illegal' store names.
I don't have any problem with that data set, it seems reasonable, because many American chain stores with English names are well-represented downtown.
But if one was to eliminate the question of French descriptors and illegal English names, one could conclude that downtown stores are 90% in compliance with the law, a fair difference with the 72% that the OQLF asserts.
And so we come to the second part of my concern, the question that the OQLF conveniently fails to answer.
Of the 10% who are in non-compliance, what percentage of signs are illegal?
The OQLF inundates us with all kinds of useless information, but NEVER TELLS US what is their interpretation of the threshold of being compliant nor non-compliant.
Does one illegal sign in a store with 300 signs make a store non-compliant?
It's crucial information that the OQLF omits, probably on purpose, because the answer sadly, is yes.
According to the OQLF, one illegal sign in a 10, 50, 100 or 500, makes the store non-compliant.
It's like writing a test with 100 questions and flunking because you got 99 questions right and one wrong.
It hardly seems fair that a store like Best Buy is considered non-compliant because of its name, when the 500 or so signs in the premises, all respect the criteria set out by French language signage regulations.
Of all the information provided in all the reports, never once does the OQLF tell us how many signs it counted and how many signs were were non-compliant.
While the OQLF is determined to tell us what path inspectors walked in the stores they visited, they won't tell us the number of 'legal' and 'illegal' signs they observed. Clearly they have something to hide.
Failure to disclose the most important data set can only be construed as an attempt to misconstrue and mislead, like a clever con man dealing out a hand of 'Three Card Monte."
The misdirection is in and of itself a disgraceful testament to the OQLF's duplicity and dishonesty.
Readers this is no accident, presenting the information honestly would likely show less than 1% of signs are illegal, not a number that the OQLF is keen to publicize.
Instead, the OQLF tells us how many stores have at least one illegal sign, a dishonest and manipulative way to goose the numbers.
By the way readers, I did my own downtown sign inspection and will report on Wednesday.
The results are absolutely startling, so don't miss it.
And by the way, here's one nugget that I found in the report that I found extremely interesting and sad.
It seems that the OQLF inspected certain stores in 2010 and then inspected the exact same stores again in 2012, to determine the differences in terms of compliance with the language laws, over the two years.
The OQLF reports that a stunning 17% of these stores were now closed, no longer in business, this in just two short years!
But far as the OQLF is concerned, it doesn't matter a twig, its only concern is whether the stores followed the law in respect to signage......
"Vente de fermeture" or "Vente de Faillite"