Bars in Quebec have been ordered to remain temporarily closed for just over one month now due to the latest, omicron-driven wave of the pandemic, but that hasn’t stopped the Office Québécois de la Langue Français (OQLF), the provincial agency charged with promoting and protecting the French language, from sending at least one of them a notice of complaint.
On Friday afternoon, St-Laurent Boulevard bar and barber shop Blue Dog Motel posted on Instagram a notice received from the OQLF (dated January 21, 2022). The document stated that the agency had received a complaint regarding content posted to Blue Dog’s commercial Facebook account, as well as its business name. In both cases, the agency said that the use of another language is permissible as long as its French version appears at least as prominently as that of any other language.
“It’s pretty poor timing. We’re closed. We can’t operate, and you’re asking me to do all this stuff?” Raphael Kerwin tells Eater. “If they want to promote the French language, there are better ways to do it instead of going after my social media page that targets like a thousand people.”
Bars in Quebec were mandated to close on December 20, 2021, after having reopened in the summer after a prior coronavirus lockdown that lasted eight months. (For businesses without a kitchen or restaurant permit, turning to takeout isn’t an option.)
“The government is only giving us a portion of our expenses, so every month that we’re closed, we’re losing money. We had to lay off a bunch of staff again. And then when we are open, the SAQ can’t even provide us with the proper alcohol,” Kerwin says, referring to the recent labour dispute between the province-run liquor commission and its warehouse workers, which created major delays and shortages for local restaurants and bars.
Kerwin says that after receiving the letter from the OQLF on Friday, he wrote back saying that Blue Dog won’t be able to address the issue until COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and the business is actually able to operate again. The OQLF has agreed to let the matter be until the situation changes, Kerwin says.
Reached for comment, OQLF spokesperson Chantal Bouchard confirms that under the charter of the French Language, a company’s commercial publications must be in French but may also appear in any other language. “All consumers have the fundamental right to be informed and served in French, in Quebec,” she says, adding that the OQLF offers support to businesses looking for solutions to comply with the charter.
This isn’t the first time that Blue Dog has had a run-in with the OQLF. Back in 2014, it also received a notice regarding signage featuring its business name. However, the agency subsequently backtracked, saying the notice had been sent without knowledge that the business had painted the French descriptors “Bar/Barbier” on its storefront. (Under Quebec’s French language charter, signage on business facades may be in multiple languages only if French appears more prominently.)
Update: January 27, 2021, 5:15 p.m.: This post has been updated to include commentary from OQLF spokesperson Chantal Bouchard.