Quebec language office faces off against small businesses in court

WATCH ABOVE: Two expert witnesses were in court on Thursday to discuss the idea that the French language is threatened in Quebec. As Rachel Lau reports, it was all a part of a court case where Montreal small business claim they have been harassed by Quebec’s language police.

MONTREAL – Dozens of small businesses were in court this week, taking on Quebec’s Office de la Langue Francaise (OQLF), and it’s taken awhile to get here.

Since the 1990s, Montreal lawyer Brent Tyler has been defending merchants who claim they have been targeted by the OQLF.

The trial is expected to last seven days.

Tyler is trying to overthrow sign laws that restrict the way English is displayed in Quebec.

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“There is absolutely no rational, empirical or other connection between the language of signs and the components of demography,” said Tyler.

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“It means that we are infringing rights for nothing.”

Many of the businesses involved in the case have been fined for having too much English on their signs, or for having the English text just as big or bigger than the French.

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“We banded together, 84 different cases, only to have the government drop 52 before the trial, and another one during the trial,” said Tyler.

“I take from that that we put on a serious case.”

That leaves Tyler with 27 defendants.

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According to his expert witness Calvin Veltman, a demographer and socio-linguist, there is no evidence to support the idea that the French language is being threatened in the province.

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“By no categorical terms, the French language is not vulnerable in the province of Quebec, which means it can’t be used to infringe basic rights and freedoms in Quebec,” said Tyler.

Yet government lawyers are retaliating with their own expert opinions.

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They introduced Marc Termote, a demographer specializing in migration.

He argued that the French language is in decline, especially in multilingual, multicultural Montreal, but Tyler says he isn’t buying it.

“Government demographers will say whatever their client tells them to say and they’ve been doing it for years because it serves the purpose of the elites in the province,” he said.

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Tyler remained optimistic, suggesting that change will come with the next generation.

“Any change in language policy will come when young Francophones, as they mature, get older and occupy positions of influence,” he said.

“They will do more to change language policy in Quebec than anything we do in court.”

Tyler said that he expects the case to end up in the Supreme Court.

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