'Pastagate' prompts Quebec to change language probes
New measures aim to 'modernize' its approach to protecting French in Quebec
The provincial ministry responsible for the protection of the French language in Quebec is pledging to “modernize” its approach to handling complaints.
The Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) announced new measures that it says will improve the transparency and efficiency of the department’s investigations.
Grievances filed with the Office will now be streamlined into two categories:
- Complaints deemed to be of “direct and personal interest”
- Complaints deemed in the “general and collective interest”
Complaints that fall in the first category are individual cases concerning issues like the use of French in the workplace and the availability of documents for professional associations in French.
Investigations for grievances deemed in the “general and collective interest” will be prioritized according to the “seriousness” of the infraction and its perceived threat to the dominance of French in public spaces. Complaints relating to signs, advertising and labelling on consumer products would fall under this category.
'Judgment took a backseat to a "the law is the law" approach and things went off the rails."- Diane De Courcy
In a news release announcing the measures, the Office said that complaints in the “general and collective interest” constitute 95 percent of the approximately 4,000 now before its investigators.
Diane De Courcy, the minister responsible for the Office québécois de la langue française, said the measures respond to concerns expressed by businesses regarding the implementation of the Quebec's language charter.
"Businesses want to be better equipped and accompanied in assuring the predominance of French in their workplace," she said. "These new methods will also have an impact as important as it is necessary in reinforcing the place of French in Quebec."
The new measures come almost eight months after the Office found itself embroiled in the “Pastagate” scandal stemming from its investigation of an Italian restaurant that used mostly Italian words like “pasta” in its menu.
“Pasta” in French is “pâtes.”
Office investigators called off their inquiry after a public outcry and the Office launched an investigation of its own into its methods.
De Courcy admitted today that "Pastagate" was emblematic of the Office's sometimes too literal interpretation of its mandate and the province's language laws.
"Judgment took a backseat to a "the law is the law" approach and things went off the rails," she told reporters.
Massimo Lecas, co-owner of Buonanotte, the restaurant at the centre of the Pastagate scandal, told CBC Montreal's Radio Noon that he doubts the new laws mean the end of similar situations for businesses in the province.
"These cases are always attributed to an over-zealous young inspector, but where are they now," he said. "Is their supervisor a former over-zealous young inspector? The nature of the bureau itself is concerning to me as an allophone."