The biggest battle in Quebec this week won’t be the riot after Wednesday’s hockey game, but in the courts. A group of small business owners are challenging Quebec’s language laws after they were fined by the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) for displaying not-French on their websites and in-store signage.
Considering the number of times that this has happened since the Loi 101 was enacted by Rene Levesque in the late 1970’s, it would be no surprise to me that people had lost track of how often the Loi had been at the heart of a debate inside and outside of the Courts. However this most recent one is made quite interesting as the fines seem to be due to websites and other online publications as well as their in-store signage. Their lawyer, Brent Tyler, takes the tired position that Quebec is being being unfair and is in fact harassing Anglophones and ethnics. Doesn’t that sound absurd? What next, he’s going to say that English and other languages are actually equal to French? Surprisingly he has the very nerve to do so and argues that the government shouldn’t have the right to refuse the use of English with the same prominence of French in some cases.
The Government’s lawyer states that Loi 101 is still valid and Constitutional so therefore the guilty parties who violated it must pay up the fines and change their ways. HALT, or ARRET! Wait to which constitution does Loi 101 adhere? Because if memory serves the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that Loi 101 is unconstitutional as it currently stands. This is an agreement that even the Superior Court of Quebec has come to acknowledge in a round about way, such as with the recent battle over using English in the larger bulk store titles.Unless there’s been an unofficial constitution of Quebec that I haven’t heard about…I don’t know what the government lawyer is talking about. Of course I know from experience that the government isn’t always able to hire the best lawyers (most, after all, struggle in defending the actions of their government).
There is little in terms of news about this case, its an old issue being hashed out all over again. Really the only interesting thing is the continued ignorance of the Quebec government over the validity of Loi 101. Or perhaps it’s our foolishness in allowing our Constitution to have that beloved Section 33, the Not-Withstanding Clause, which allows Quebec to get away with it.
The other, singular, interesting fact of note is that this court battle challenges the use of online signage and websites. Tyler and his clients argue that the law is particularly outdated in this regards and that since the Web is such a hotbed of freedom of expression (seriously you can find or post just about anything there) Quebec can’t regulate it. I’m sure they could try, in fact they have: section 89 of Loi 101 relates to computer software! However, this was a clause added in the early 1990’s as the internet was only beginning to take flight. It was added in 1992 to be exact, so it hasn’t been changed in more than twenty years…that would be a little outdated to say the least. What I fail to grasp is how the government is able to charge business’s for online infractions of the Law, when the only section relating to the online realm, not only makes no explicit reference to the internet or World Wide Web (only concerning itself with software), but even there it concedes that English can be used at least as predominantly as French in those instances. I don’t watch enough French-Canadian media, but I really should see if they have a kind of Judge Judy of Quebec.
If not, they certainly should make one, given how some of the Government Lawyers in this province behave…the show would certainly be a comical hit; whatever language its filmed in!