Two Montreal-area business owners are speaking out after having received letters from the province’s language police (OQLF) for having contravened Quebec’s French-language laws.
Raphael Kerwin, who owns the Blue Dog Motel, a bar and barbershop on Saint-Laurent Boulevard, said he received the notice in an email.
Kerwin said someone filed an official complaint with the OQLF over the bar’s Facebook page which wasn’t bilingual enough.
Kerwin recounted how at first he was excited at having received news from the government.
“I was excited to see that maybe they were going to be helping us out in some way,” he said. “And then we opened the email, it is them telling us we need to change our Facebook page.”
“I was really disappointed and just sort of demoralized even more than I already am.”
Quebec bars and restaurants have been amongst the businesses hardest hit during the pandemic, with COVID-19 lockdowns shuttering businesses for the better part of two years.
“So, you know, it would be nice to get some help from the government rather than constantly being told what to do, even after we’ve had to abide by all these different COVID protocols,” Kerwin said.
“We’ve done everything they’ve said.”
Kerwin said he was unaware the posts on social media had to appear in French and will make sure future posts are bilingual.
It’s not complying with the rules he is taking issue with but more the timing of the notice.
“Basically we responded by saying since we are not able to operate as a business right now, we will not be broaching this subject until bars are allowed to reopen.”
Bars were ordered closed on Dec. 20, 2021, when cases of COVID-19 were surging and threatening to overwhelm an already crippled health-care network.
Restaurants have been given the green light to reopen at half-capacity starting Jan. 31, but no opening date has been set for bars.
While the OQLF has agreed to grant a reprieve until the bar is back in business, Kerwin said he feels attacked.
“It feels like I can’t win. No matter what I do, there will never be an end to this. They’re going to find some way to attack me,” he said. “There’s no end in sight if they’re going to nitpick at things like Facebook.”
A spokesperson for the OQLF told Global News in an email that commercial publications have to be in French but that other languages can also be added.
“All consumers have the fundamental right of being informed and served in French in Quebec,” wrote Chantal Bouchard in French.
She also said that the OQLF can offer support to businesses to help them conform to the Charter of the French Language.
Meanwhile, restaurant owner Ted Drainas said he is going through a similar experience to Kerwin’s.
He received a letter from the OQLF in December.
“When I read the official line from this letter telling me that my employees don’t speak French adequately enough, I was floored,” he said, adding staff at all his restaurants can speak French.
Like Kerwin, Drainas feels the notice is ill-timed as restaurants are struggling to stay afloat.
“I couldn’t believe what I was reading because … and I’m sure a lot of the people around us – we lost two years of our lives,” he said.
He too, says the government needs to step up and do more to help.
“That’s what our leaders need to be assessing and addressing. We are all in this together and we have to work together, not divide us by language, by race or by financial dispositions.”
As for the OQLF notice, Drainas isn’t sure what his next steps are.
“If it becomes a fine, I’ll fight it, if it blows over I’ll let it go,” he said.
He just wishes the customer had handled the situation differently.
“It would have been nice if the customer who was here that day, could have brought it the waiter’s attention,” he said, adding that them filing an official complaint instead felt vindictive.