Possible changes to Bill 101
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.