Language Suicide Bombers
We knew about the language crusaders and zealots who have made it a hobby of finding and reporting any and all infractions to the Charter of the French Language.
Now it seems there is a new phenomenon that will have to be addressed in Montreal: Language IEDs.
The first bomb went off last week after the Office Québécois de la Langue Française sent an inspector to McKibbin’s after one of the pub’s patron’s filed a report in which he complained about being refused service in French and English-only signs in the pub.
Québec’s language law is a complaints-based law, meaning that the OQLF only intervenes if it receives a formal complaint from a private citizen. The idea was that in small English-speaking communities like Hudson, Chelsea or Beaconsfield, no one would be bothered by the occasional English-only sign and no one would ever file a complaint. It was a way to protect the right of Québec’s French-speakers while giving different localities a way of regulating themselves, depending on their own demographic make-up.
This sensible arrangement was messed up by the rise of self-proclaimed vigilantes, Hall-monitor types who ventured deep into Anglo territory, looking for apostrophes and measuring the size of French letters on signs in Snowdon and Kirkland.
It now seems we will have to deal with another threat to harmonious cohabitation between French and English, this time coming from the other Side of the Main.
McKibbin’s Irish pub owners got the world’s media attention with two deliberate lies: that they had been told to take down vintage Irish posters and that they were told the staff spoke to much English amongst themselves. Vintage posters in English or any other language are perfectly legal and there is nothing the law can do about the language employee speak amongst themselves, unless an employee complains he was discriminated against, which wasn’t the case here. Check out the Montreal Gazette’s excellent article on the stunt. Or read the Toronto Star.
This case is about a customer being denied service in French and English-only menus are that are not vintage in any way.
There is no way a downtown businessperson in Montreal can reasonably claim to be in good faith when French customers are refused service in French in his establishment. There is no way a downtown business person does not know that English-only signs on a Montreal street are an open invitation for complaints to the OQLF.
In fact they are traps.
Anyone who has ever gone out for a beer in the western part of downtown where the now infamous Irish pub is situated knows that, although we can’t make generalizations, many establishments can be fairly hostile territory for French-speaker. The many other pubs on Bishop street that have English-only signs and unilingual staff cannot reasonably claim a spirit of openness and tolerance towards Francophones.
Exactly like the Francophones zealots who go out looking for language law violations and picking fights with Anglo shopkeepers, Bishop street pubs had laid a bomb and patiently waited for a Francophone customer to step on it.
This week it went off. TV reporters were called in. Web sites went up. The spin was ready.
Tick, tick, tick… boom.
How appropriate that it exploded at McKibbin’s, a pub named for Albert McKibbin, an Irishman who followed English orders as a soldier in the English Army…