Sugar Sammy's English ads did break OQLF signage rules

Montreal comedian Sugar Sammy asked for — and received — a language complaint for his latest advertising campaign, but was it all a crock?

Comedian Sugar Sammy self-censored English ads after he asked for, and got, a language complaint

Montreal comedian Sugar Sammy asked for — and received — a language complaint for his latest advertising campaign, but was it all a crock?

The short answer is no, but it certainly was designed to stoke the fiery flames of language debate in Quebec.

Advertising firm Sid Lee took credit for the comedian's billboards put up late November goading people into filing complaints with the Office québécois de la langue française.

This photo posted to Reddit shows a before and after of a Sugar Sammy ad. In the second ad, it says in French, "For Christmas, I got a complaint from the Office de la langue française." (Domenic-Anthony D'Amico/Reddit)

Some Montrealers pointed to an OQLF rule that indicates that a cultural or educational activity (like a comedy show) can promote itself in a language other than French if that activity is only in that language.

So, for example, if a play is exclusively presented in English, it can advertise in English.

Sugar Sammy's team placed a dozen or so ads in the Montreal Metro the week of Nov. 17, one of them provoking people with a message that says, "For Christmas, I'd like a complaint from the Office de la langue française." 

And he got one. Two days after the ad went up, black bars appeared over the English portions of the ads.

Ads really did break the rules

Some said the ad campaign was based on a false premise — that it was a clever marketing ploy meant to intentionally provoke language complaints while actually operating within the OQLF's rules.

However, according to OQLF spokesman Jean-Pierre Leblanc, the fact that Sugar Sammy performs in both English and French, as well as Hindi and Punjabi, means his English ads really didn't conform to the guidelines laid out by the province's language watchdog.

Taking a closer look at Sugar Sammy's tour schedule available on his website, it seems he doesn't deliver exclusively English performances at all. In fact, the language categories for his shows are English and French, French and Other.

His next six shows will be exclusively in French according to his schedule, as well.

Leblanc of the OQLF said that Sugar Sammy has since corrected all his ads, but would not comment on the number of complaints or the results of their investigation.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.