Could this be another ‘Pastagate’ – the 2020 edition? Back in February of 2013, an inspector from the OQLF (Office Québécois de la Langue Française) issued a warning notice to the Buonanotte restaurant for using Italian words like ‘antipasta’, ‘calamari’ and ‘pasta’ on their menu. It created a public outcry, even from some Quebec Francophones, accusing the OQLF of abusing their powers. Pastagate also made international headlines and resulted in the resignation of the OQLF’s President Louise Marchand. Now it appears to be making a reappearance.
Simon Jolin-Barrette (the Minister Responsible for the French Language in the province) is in charge of the portfolio. He has been described as an excitable, young politician whom Premier Legault has difficulty reigning in at times. Just a little over a month ago, Jolin-Barrette announced new measures towards enforcing the French language charter – ‘Protection of the French language is a priority for your government’ he wrote on his Facebook page (translated from French). ‘Today I announced a historic reinforcement of the action of the Office québécois de la langue française. With an investment of $5 Million, three new regional offices will open and 50 new posts will be created. Of these, 20 will be fully dedicated to accompanying companies with fewer than 50 employees, where the needs are critical. This is a first concrete measure of your government’s action plan to protect, promote and enhance the French language’.
With $5 Million in his pocket, Jolin-Barrette has been quick out of the gate, the ‘Pastagate’ that is – and doing it right in the middle of a viral pandemic. Restaurants, especially hard hit and struggling to survive, have been targeted with warnings and fines. One of those receiving a visit from the OQLF language police was Deli 365 located in Outremont, who were fined $1,500 for a ‘Bill 101 Infraction’. Their sign was in violation of the Bill that requires ‘all signs on business facades, while permitted to feature text in another language, must feature French more prominently’. Apparently, ‘Deli’, understood by all Quebecer, does not fit the ‘Bill’. *SEE LETTER from the OQLF.
Kitchen73, located in in Riviere-des-Prairies, that offers Breakfast, Lunch and Catering also received a visit from OQLF. “In full closure of the restaurant industry, I get a visit from an arrogant OQLF Inspector, threatening to fine me for my Anglo sign in which is trademarked and has over 80% of French writing. I asked him if the fines stick when there is only chairs and tables in the restaurant with no business? He laughed in my face. Worst of all he laughed at me driving off in his car because he was amused by my frustration!!!” wrote one of the owners on their Facebook page.
Patisserie Italia, a bakery in Saint-Leonard, was visited by the language police last week about their signage, which included words in English and Italian. The owner said the blackboards she uses do have several English words on them, words like ‘cheesecake’ and ‘smoked meat’ and that she will comply, but for words in Italian such as ‘espresso’ she feels they are going too far. She was told to expect a list of changes to be made or she could face fines.
There have been more reports surfacing from other small businesses who have received visits from the language police and now facing the possibility of fines. Restaurants, that barely managed to survive the first wave of the pandemic, might not make it through the second wave. It is the Quebec government that forced the closures… and a bitter ‘Bill’ to swallow.