Possible changes to Bill 101

with 40 comments

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.

Written by angryfrenchguy

August 8, 2008 at 1:21 pm

40 Responses

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  1. See InFlames? We can do a lot more work if we keep emotions down.

    Two comments:

    “I think it would be better to promote the beauty and utility of the French language, build and develop more French businesses, schools, and universities of unequaled excellence”

    -The difficulty in doing that is that Québec Anglos (8% of the population) get over 35% of the Higher education and Health Care budgets.

    “promote bilingualism and provide incentives to people to learn French or English.”

    As I have demonstrated here before, Bill 101 promotes billingualism while Official/institutional billingualism does exactly the opposite and promotes monolingualism.


    August 21, 2008 at 2:35 pm

  2. Thanks, Angry. That’s a great point, that Bill 101 has had the effect, given the hard-to-resist sea tide of English surrounding Quebec, of promoting bilingualism.


    August 25, 2008 at 10:52 pm

  3. […] this is an illustration of how the system makes it to easy for people to make impulsive complaints about trivial […]

  4. Sigh… you make me tired,
    I have to write a paper on whether or not bill 101 is justified and I don’t have 100/1000 words. I have an idea! Let’s see who can make the most persuasive essay by 7:00 tomorrow morning. Use examples from our history. I’ll judge them and announce a winner. Should the French have been assimilated after the English conquest?

    You know you really want to. It could open up some real good points here.


    October 30, 2008 at 6:37 pm

  5. 1000-1500 words


    October 30, 2008 at 6:38 pm

  6. I think that’s a wonderful idea, I would love to see how the others can respond.


    October 30, 2008 at 8:05 pm

  7. Justify bill 101 in your essay.


    November 2, 2008 at 2:07 pm

  8. You hit the nail on the head, AFG. Bill 101 isn’t the same law that it was in 1977. Amendments have allowed it to achieve its original goals without being overly restrictive.

    Just like any other law, after 30 years it becomes a bit outdated and should be tweaked from time to time. Your suggestions are right on the money- the complaints procedure and the naming requirements for companies are unworkable. I once had the bizarre situation of telling a company from France that their company name wasn’t French according to the OQLF– if they wanted to set up a Quebec subsidiary, they would have to change their name (or easily get around the law by paying $1000 to have the name registered as a trademark.)

    The vast majority of Quebec anglophones are almost completely unaffected by Bill 101 and don’t really care about it. The only people who really care about it are the crackpots that you mentioned. But you will notice that they have no support among anglophone Quebecers. Alliance Quebec closed down after its government subsidy was cut off, because it had almost no volunteers or private contributions. Galganov’s shop closed down for lack of customers, his radio show got cancelled for low ratings, and he lost every public office he ran for. Allen Nutik didn’t even run for office because his political party had no public support, money or members. The easiest way to deal with these guys is to just ignore them.


    November 27, 2008 at 9:48 am

  9. ^^^^ What CD said

    I am Jack's Comment

    December 12, 2008 at 1:43 am

  10. And hopefully one day enough French-speaking Quebecers will be confident enough in the future of the French language in Quebec that there will be support for allowing signs of equal prominence.

    One day.

    Not because it really matters at the end of the day, but because it is kind of insulting to be told you can only display signs in your own language. [Cue examples of insulting gestures from Anglo-Quebecers towards the French-speaking majority – but two wrongs don’t make a right and we’re talking about Bill 101 specifically here]

    I would think – and am curious if I am wrong – that supporters of restricting English signs to half of the prominence of French regard this as best an unfortunate necessity as opposed to an ideal way of dealing with the English minority.

    [And to clarify – I am not saying that the current state of affairs should or should not lead French-speaking Quebecers to have this level of confidence in the future of their language in Quebec].

    I am Jack's Comment

    December 12, 2008 at 1:58 am

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