Archive for August 2008
As part of my mission to demystify the strange and scary place called Québec, today, boys and girls, I’m going to initiate you to the most vile and hateful ritual that we separatists have been known to partake in. Grab your garlic and keep one browser window on justin.ca, we’re going deep into the bowels of evil French Brotherhood. For you, the inquisitive readers of AngryFrenchGuy, I will renounce the anonymous protection bestowed on me by my brethren and take you through my very first complaint to the Ordre de la Langue Française du Québec.
…or Office de la Langue Française. Whatever.
Growing up in NDG-by-the-Décarie, I’ve always been keenly aware of the difficulty a Francophone can have in obtaining service in French in some parts of Montreal. That said, on the whole, most people were in good faith and you just avoided the stores run by the others. Things had this way of working themselves out.
I had never made a complaint to the OQLF and never expected that would be something I would do. I’ve never been a strong supporter of defending French through legislation – except when it comes to the language of education – and I have always prefered to let my money do the activism.
I came back to Montreal after spending a few years living mainly in Ontario and the contrast hit me in the face like like a STM bus rear-view mirror. Whereas shopkeepers in Toronto were friendly helpful people who seemed to value the service aspect of their profession, in Downtown Montreal I was confronted with aggressive and resentful assholes who made no attempts to hide their sighs of exasperation when I asked to be served in French. Worse, the random NDG dinosaurs who would simply refuse to serve you in French were franchising all the way east on Saint-Denis and beyond.
It was while I was struggling with this increasing frustration and disgust that I came across the nice people at Boffey Auto Sales.
I was looking for a car on the Internet and found one I liked on boffeyautosales.com. I looked for the phone number on the page and I noticed it was all in English. I looked for a Français button, or something. There was none.
I decided to send the company an email. I’m not thinking of bill 101 or of the OQLF at this point. I’m talking about the good old fashioned free market. I sent the shopkeeper my grievance and hoped this would eventually influence him to change his approach. Here’s the copy/paste of my missive:
I was going to visit your business to look for my next vehicle but a quick visit to your website made me understand you are not interested in my business.
Hint: Only 17% of Montrealers have english as their mother tongue. Maybe some service in the language the est of us speak would help sales!
Meilleure chance la prochaine fois.
A bit of a wise-ass, but nevertheless polite.
Now here is the response I got from the good people at Boffey:
Hi George, (your name with the correct spelling!)
You seem to be able to communicate quite well in english. It really is too bad that you are so ignorant that you would let language stand in the way of getting a great deal!
Most of the traffic our website sees is from ebay, which you are probably aware, is in english. We advertise on http://www.lespac.com in the language you prefer, and are fluent in both english and french. We have a large french speaking customer base who are interested in getting a deal, not in bickering over language.
The cost to put together the website you see was 2,300$. It seems expensive, but vehicles can be uploaded, and listings modified by a child it is so simple. It would have cost an additional 1,000$ to have it translated. Seeing as most of our online business is conducted in the 9 other provinces that make up our COUNTRY, we decided to save a few dollars. To date you are the only one who has been insulted.
I am actually happy that you made the decision to avoid our lot. Dealing with pigheaded fools such as yourself rarely leads to any profitable business.
Be sure to take a trip on by Encan Direct H. Gregoire, MTL Autoprix or Corporatif Renaud, just to name a few, where you will be catered to in the language of your choice, and will also pay the price for it!!
Hint: The mother tongue of 88% of CANADIANS is english.
That’s the day I made my first complaint to the OQLF.
Easiest thing I’ve ever done in my life. Clicked here: www.olf.gouv.qc.ca/francisation/respect/plainte.html, filled the form in 5 minutes and emailed it back. Got a message from the OQLF a week later saying they’d received my complaint. That’s the last I’ve ever heard of it.
As the website is still only in English even though the courts have ruled that ecommerce is absolutely within the OQLF’s jurisdiction, I can only guess that my complaint is one of the 1000’s that the Imperial Guardians of the Language just delete every year.
And you know what? At the end of the day I’d rather they go after Best Buy and Coach Canada than a poor chump selling used cars on ebay.
In fact, I actually could’ve accepted Mr. Weir’s explanation that the website is only for business outside Québec, had he told me politely. But that day, all I could think was that either he was going to have pay 1000$ to translate his website or he was going to have to pay a 1000$ fine. Busted.
Perhaps this is an illustration of how the system makes it to easy for people to make impulsive complaints about trivial problems.
On the the other hand, it is also a good example of how many business people bring problems upon themselves by being first-class twits.
Re-reading that email a year later, I feel I just might file a second complaint right now…
So here you are. You’ve left New Jersey or Bangalore behind, came to Montreal, McGill and Concordia and you are now ready to explore your new home and indulge in your new life of freedom and very loose drinking laws.
During your stay in Québec you will be expected to ingest quite enormous quantities of cheese, fries, gravy, beer and bullshit about your new home, all of which could quite understandably make you sick to your stomach if you are not careful.
Lucky for you, you’ve found the AngryFrenchGuide, the voice of reason and truth about Québec who will help you see through the fog of dinsinformation and closet francophobia that you might come accross in the streets of Montreal.
To start you off, here are a few myths about McGill and Concordia universities that you should be weary of:
1. McGill is Montreal’s only world-class university.
Although it has often claimed to have more international students than any other university in Canada and even though half of those “international” students live only a few hours down highway 15/87 in the United States, McGill only managed to attract 400 more students on a visa than l’Université de Montréal (the big yellow building that kind of looks like a mosque on top of Mount-Royal).
In 2006 McGill had 5549 international students while UdM, with it’s affiliated engineering and business schools, Polytechnique and HEC, had 5130. Every single one of those had to take an airplane to get here. Who’s world-class now?
2. Québec needs McGill and Concordia to attract young upwardly mobile students from abroad.
What is this? 1998? You guys need to get with the program.
According to the British Council, the demand for a Western English language education by international students is falling fast, especially in Asia. In 2005 4 out of 5 UK universities recorded a drop in foreign students, as sharp as 50% in the case of students from China.
Most countries in the World have adapted to the reality that English is the global language. People are learning English at home, now. They don’t need to come to Canada and the West anymore. The British Council’s conclusion: “The recent decline in international students studying in the main English-speaking countries is unlikely to reverse.”
The latest numbers from McGill tell us that although international admissions were stable this year, admissions from China, Japan, Mexico and Latin America all were down.
3. English is still the global language. There will always be a demand for an English education.
India’s outsourcing business is in crisis because it doesn’t have enough multilingual staff. They need German, Chinese and Spanish-speaking staff to get new lucrative markets. It started outsourcing the English-language business to more inexpensive places like Viet Nam, Guatemala and the State of Georgia (not the country, the US state). English is no longer a high value skill. Anyone can speak English.
The word on the street is multilinguism. You can’t graduate from Montreal’s French-language universities without a high proficiency in English. You can very easily spend four years at Concordia without learning a word of French, which makes you unemployable in Québec, and just another unilingual English-speaker in that big multilingual world out there. Maybe you can get work at that Indian call-center in Atlanta?
4. I’ve heard about you AFG, you’re one of those bitter separatists trying to wipe English out of Montreal.
There are exactly 744 430 English-speaking people in Québec, not even 10% of the population. Nevertheless Québec has three English-language universities that receive 27% of the government higher education funding, including 33% of the research budgets.
The rest of Canada has exactly ONE French university and it doesn’t have enough money to have a medical school.
5. Yeah, but Montreal’s English universities help offset the “brain drain” in Québec.
Actually, if it wasn’t for Montreal’s Anglo universities, Québec would be in a “brain gain” situation. 70% of English-speaking students leave after earning a Ph.D. Every year, wilst Québec is in the middle of a doctor shortage crisis, more than 50% of doctors trained by McGill leave the province.
Québec’s French universities can train more fluently English-speaking doctors and engineers than McGill and Concordia at a fraction of the cost. McGill and Concordia are just not good investments.
6. Fuck you AFG! English Montreal built McGill and Concordia and you separatists don’t have any business telling us who and what we should teach!
Actually, McGill and Concordia have received between a quarter and a third of all the higher education budgets of Québec for the last 40 years. They were built by the Québec people and belong to the Québec people. If the people of Québec decide they need Concordia to train people to work in Tagalog, that’s what Concordia’s should do.
So there you have it. French-speaking North Americans (3% of the continents population) are subsidizing the education of English-speaking North Americans (90% of the population). Pay attention in your your PoliSci class when the teacher will describe neo-colonial systems. You just might hear things that sound like this post.
But it’s cool, don’t worry about it. You’ve got time. Take those four years, learn some French, explore the east, make some friends and join the good fight.
And remember, don’t go back home without having that poutine. It helps keep everything down.
It’s been three years now since The New York Times, SPIN and other Rolling Stones officially labelled Montreal a Hot Music Scene, based on a not-necessarily-undeserved but very Anglo-centric coverage of Arcade Fire and their friends.
Are we still cool? Probably not. Three years is an awfully long time for that kind of hype.
There is however a whole other music scene in Montreal, one that is mercifully immunized against the mainstream English-language media. A scene that goes way beyond les Cowboys Fringants. Here’s a few names for those into that type of thing.
Remember when a Québec Anglo signing in French wasn’t so much of a curiosity? Remember Me, Mom and Morgentaler, GrimSkunk and… euh… the McGarrigle sisters? Yeah, neither did I. Paul Cargnello – think Jean Leloup and Joe Strummer in Leonard Cohen’s suit – redeems English Montreal from the tragedy that is Crescent street. (That said, we sometimes wish he’d go back to English once in a while just to kick Jack Johnson’s ass.)
Straight out of Moncton! Not from Québec at all, New Brunswick’s Radio Radio is the first Acadian hip hop crew ever represent the 506 and demonstrate how Shiak, the acadian slang, just might be the ultimate rhyming language ever! Don’t worry, nobody in Québec has any idea what their talking about either.
Côte-des-Neiges’ M.A.N.U. is often guilty of some simplistic rhymes but he just as often makes it up with inspired gems: “J’suis sur la voie rapide comme monsieur Jack Layton/Fuck ceux à droite comme le maire d’Huntington”. La Traversé du Lac Nasser is a more lucid and subtle reflexion on the conflict between the West and the Islamic world than anything ever published by any Canadian newspaper, complete with an aknowledgement of Canada/Québec’s hypocritical stance and a condemnation of the way Arab regimes blame Jews for all their own failures.
True to the original punk spirit Xavier Caféïne infiltrated commercial radio with catchy pop tunes that dissed Montreal, baby boomers and his ex-girlfriend Gisèle while celebrating the rise of China that will liberate us from the Bald Eagle and Jesus Christ. That and he still defends smoking.
There are now two solitudes in Québec Hip Hop, with on one side the not uninteresting Old School orthodoxy and, on the other a new breed busy deconstructing the genre into something the American and French godfathers of Québec Rap never saw coming. Gatineau have gone farther into these uncharted waters than anyone else. Think Dr. Dre: The ‘Schrooms 2008.
For more check out:
Why did Montréal-Nord catch fire?
Why did hundreds of kids spend the night setting cars on fire?
Because they couldn’t find any planes, trains or helicopters.
Because they say they are being treated like second class citizens. Because they are second class citizens
Three weeks ago Montrealers were congratulating themselves on Bombardier Aerospace’s decision to assemble it’s new CSeries aicraft in suburban Mirabel. Thousands of new jobs were coming our way. With Bombardier, it’s suppliers and competitors, there were now over 40 000 aerospace related jobs in Québec.
The people of Montréal-Nord knew they were not getting those jobs and that they would never get those jobs.
The thing is, with the government’s blessing (not to mention it’s money in the form of subsidies) and in total violation of Canadian law, many of Québec’s aerospace firms discriminates against Canadian citizens who have dual citizenship with countries like Haiti, Cuba, Venezuela, Lebanon and Viet Nam – over 25 countries in total.
Canadians born outside Canada. The type of Canadians who live in Montréal-Nord.
You see, if some of your employees have a passport from one of these countries, you’re not getting US Defense contracts, which are a big part of our “aerospace” industry.
Bell Helicopter Textron will not hire you and CAE will not hire you.
Bombardier’s Canadian operations are out of the defense business. For now. But some industry watchers suspect that many companies just don’t hire anyone born outside Canada or with multiple citizenship, just in case… You know, if something comes their way, it just makes things easier.
Unemployment in Montreal‘s Haïtian community – a very important community in Montréal-Nord – stands at a scandalous 18%. For North Africans, another important community in the area, it’s 28%.
Time and time and time again they watch the rest of Montreal, Québec and Canada celebrate the thousands of new high paying jobs that they will never get. They were expected to quietly sit this one out, close their eyes on a blatant, systematic and officially sanctioned violation of their citizenship and human rights and just wait for the next turn.
And you know what? That’s what they did. That’s what Freddy Villanova and his brother were doing the other night. Just chilling out and shooting craps like a million other ghetto kids around the world no one cares about. And then Freddy was shot.
It’s not cars they should’ve burned, it’s helicopters.
I dare anybody to lecture these kids about respecting the law.
Soon after the adoption of Bill 101, the French Language Charter, in 1977, Participation Québec – Anglo-rights lobby that would later become Alliance Québec – demanded three changes to the law. One, that bilingual signs be allowed. Two, that all Canadian Anglophones, not just the ones from Québec, have access to publicly funded English schools. Three, that health and social services remain available for Anglophones.
And done. Since bill 63 allowed bilingual signs in Québec 15 years ago, all of English Québec’s demands have been met.
So what the hell are we still arguing about?
We are still arguing because contrary to what was the case in the 1970’s the smart, informed and moderate leaders of the Anglophone community have shut up. They have disappeared from the public debate.
This has had serious consequences. It allowed Howard Galganov, Brent Tyler, Bill Johnston, Allen Nutik and a whole cast of clowns to stage an appalling parody of an “individual rights” argument against Bill 101. They have also made themselves complicit with the spread of the most ridiculous myths about Québec.
The consequence today is that Francophones have turned bill 101 into a sacred monument and concluded that dialogue with the English-speaking community on the issue of the protection of the French language is impossible.
The very term Anglophone leader has become so dirty that Prime minister Jean Charest has to hide the fact that his party has Anglo support and keep his Anglo MNAs in the back benches!
This said, legislation should be a living breathing thing and Bill 101 is no exception. It is simply not true that the choice is between a vindictive language legislation that victimizes Anglophones and an institutional bilingualism that would lead to two hermetically segregated societies.
So as a public service to Québec, the interns in the West Wing of the AngryFrenchHouse have come up, as a starting point for discussions, with two changes to the French Language Charter that would solves some problems Anglos have with the law without threatening the French language in any way.
1. Stop legislating our names!
As it now stands the French Language charter requires that all “raison sociale” – the names of stores and businesses – be in French. Companies with internationally registered trademarks, however, can keep using their international brand name in Québec, unless they also have a French brand name, in which case they have to use that one.
This means McDonald’s can use it’s “English” apostrophe but Schwartz’s Deli Bob’s quincaillerie in Gatineau can’t.
Not only does this rule not serve any discernable purpose, it has the exact opposite effect of the one intended by the creators of the law: it gives more leeway to big transnational corporations than to small local businesses that happen to be owned and operated by Anglophones.
The rule has absolutely no effect on the “French face” of Montreal as Blockbuster, American Apparel, Urban Outfitter, Future Shop and a thousand other Best Buys with international trademarks are allowed to put up their signs while small local start-ups would not be allowed to use those very same names had they been available.
The name of the store does not in any way reflect the quality of the French service offered in those stores anyway. I can very well call my store Skateboard Kings and have French-only signs and catalogues and fluently French or bilingual staff. In fact, last year the OQLF gave a prize to Mountain Equipment Coop for the quality of it’s French service. Yet, if MEC had been headquartered in Québec instead of a prize they would’ve received a fine and would have been forced to change their name to Coopérative d’Équipement de Montagne inc….
It’s a silly rule and it must go.
2. Stop the Vigilantes!
A frequent complaint of businesses that have had run-ins with the OQLF is that procedures can be started on the basis of a single anonymous complaint.
The logic behind the complaint mechanism of bill 101 is that it would allow communities to police themselves. In small rural English-speaking town in the Eastern Townships no one, not even visiting Francophones, would be offended by some English-only signs or the odd unilingual English waitress at the local diner. No one would complain, nothing would change.
Sadly it’s a well known fact that there are some ideological vigilantes out there who go out looking for such “threats” to the French language. Because of the one complaint policy, the Office is legally required to launch an investigation.
Contrary to the myth of the all powerful Language Police that Anglo media in Canada works very hard to perpetuate, there is actually a grand total of four (google English) – that’s right, four – inspectors investigating complaints against small businesses in the entire province of Québec, and those inspectors are barely able to process 60% of the files on their desks.
I don’t know for a fact how they chose which ones to investigate but you would hope they prioritize those businesses that received multiple complaints. There is probably a de facto filtering out of single random complaints.
Nevertheless, as a goodwill gesture and also as a way to clear the backlog, a higher treshold should be required before the OQLF has to launch an investigation. Let’s say five complaints? Other measures should be established to discourage vigilantes, such as requiring that they supply a postal code proving that they can reasonably claim they are part of the same community as the business they are complaining against.
Next week: AngryFrenchGuy solves the conflict in the Middle East.
When it comes to negative branding, opponents of Québec’s language legislation hit a home run when they coined the term Language Police to designate the governement bureaucrats charged with enforcing the French Language Charter. Probably the only thing that could do worse damage to your international public image than a Language Police is footage of your citizens hitting baby seals on the head with harpoons…
The nickname, however, was not even their own idea. The best the most clever Angryphone of them all, Mordecai Richler, could come up with was Tongue Trooper. It is Morley Safer of CBS’s 60 Minutes who is said to have been the first to use the term Language Police.
There is, of course, no such thing as a Language Police in Québec.
The general objective of Québec’s French Language Charter is to protect the right of every citizen of Québec to work and receive services and information in French in Québec, something that has often been problematic, especially in Montreal, even though French-speakers are the majority of the population.
To acheive that goal it made it mandatory that all businesses in Québec be able to serve their customers in French, both verbally and in writing, whether it be through menus, posters, telephone customer service, advertizing, on the internet or in person.
If a citizen felt his right to service in French was not honored, he could make a complaint to the Office de Protection de la Langue Française, the governement agency in charge of the Charter’s application. The agency would then send a agent to investigate if the complaint was justified, and if it was, to inform the business in question that there had been a complaint and assist him in correcting the situation.
If, and only if, the business in questions refused or failed to make the corrections the OQLF could forward the complaint to the Minister of Justice, who has the power to impose a fine.
In 2006-2007 there were 3873 complaints. Only 72 of those were eventually forwarded to the minister.
The OQLF agents are no more a police force than food inspectors or workplace safety agents, but Language Police is a powerful image and through endless repetition by less thorough reporters than Mr. Safer who couldn’t spell hyperbole, the idea that Québec has an actual Language Police has taken on a life all it’s own and otherwise informed visitors fully expect to see them patrolling the streets of Montreal in uniform.
The myth of the Language Police has hurt Québec and Montreal’s image, but it’s to late to do anything about it. The image is there and the name stuck.
In such situations the only thing left to do is embrace image. Québec could make the agents of the Office Québécois de la Langue Française actual constables of an actual Language Police, give them uniforms, badges, governement issue tape-measures and taser guns.
This change of terminology, however, will cause changes accross Canada as other pencil-pushing civil servants will also want to be called police officers. You see, cops earn more money and have way more luck with the ladies than white collar bureaucrats.
Employees of the CRTC, the Canadian Radio and Television Commission, will be become the Thought Police, to reflect their power to decide who has the right to broadcast, what they can broadcast, and how much they can charge for it. The bureaucrats in charge of monitoring the 35% of Canadian music radio stations are required to broadcast by law will be known as the Rock n’ Roll Police and those found guilty of not playing enough Bryan Adams will be sent to a jail in Newfoundland known as the Jailhouse Rock.
Workers at Ontario’s Human Rights Tribunal who investigate complaints of discrimination against visible minorities and women in the workplace will be renamed the Race and Sex Police.
City zoning officials in Saskatoon, whose job includes inforcement of a city bylaw that legally requires residents of the Hughes Drive developement to use a minimum of four colors on the facade of their houses and that “the selected colors should match the range of Benjamin Moore “Historical Colors”, will be known as the Royal Canadian Color Police.
Soccer moms in Saskatoon risk heavy fines if they should fail to coordinate with their neighbours, but that is nothing compared to the plight of homeowners in Edmonton where the Veranda Police will patrols the streets of Spruce Village on the lookout for violators of the “covered porch” architectural guidelines.
Well, the decision whether or not to turn any little government employee into a police officer is one Alberta and Saskatchewan will have to make for itself.
As for Québec, the world already asumes we have a language police so there will be nothing lost in getting one. In fact, it would be a unique opportunity to turn a negative into a positive.
An actual Québec Language Police could play the role Mounties play in the rest of Canada. Language cops in crisp blue uniforms and funny hats could be posted arround Montreal and Québec, tourists would line up to be photographed with them and a paraphenelia deal could be struck with Disney Corporation.