The owner of a store in Chelsea, Que., says she has been inundated with calls of support since the Quebec government ordered her to change the language on her store’s Facebook page to French.
Eva Cooper owns the women’s clothing boutique store, Delilah (in the Parc), with locations in Ottawa’s Glebe neighbourhood and in Chelsea, just north of Gatineau.
Cooper said she serves customers in both languages, but her Facebook posts are mostly in English.
“I was a little bit in shock. I was a bit taken aback,” Cooper said regarding the request to change her Facebook page.
“It’s not like I’ve ever not followed the law with my businesses on the Quebec side.”
Customer complaint prompted order
Cooper said she received a letter from the provincial government after a customer complained the page did not meet the requirements of Bill 101, the main legislation in Quebec’s language policy.Cooper has been ordered to translate her page by March 10 or she could face legal action.
Jean-Pierre Leblanc, a spokesman with Quebec's French-language office, said any promotional material from a business must be written in French, including posts on Facebook and Twitter.
"It's not the media itself, it's the use of it, so when you use it for commercial purpose, advertising, you are selling product or you are advertising for a service, it's applied," said Leblanc.
But Cooper argues there are blurred lines because the law does not mention social media.
LISTEN | Does Bill 101 cover Facebook?
“Interestingly enough, it doesn’t really state anything to do with Facebook, but it does talk about catalogues and brochures and flyers,” Cooper said.
“We are dealing with social media and the World Wide Web. It definitely is another area, and it’s a grey zone.”
Cooper said she's received many calls of support from English and francophone customers since news of the government order was publicized this week, and 'likes' on her Facebook page have tripled to close to 3,000.
Cooper said she requested an English copy of the letter from the government and she wants to learn more background on the law before making any changes.
In 2001, a couple selling maple syrup was fined for operating an English-only website in Quebec.
Social media should be exempt, says rights group
Sylvia Martine LaForge, a spokeswoman for the Quebec Community Groups Network, a Quebec English rights group, said the law was created in the 1970s and applies to pamphlets and signs but not social media.
She said the fact the province's New York office runs a Facebook page in English is a clear sign that social media should be exempt.
"It's a question of social media being such an unknown territory right now. So if you say to me, will their Facebook page in New York now be bilingual, or will it have a French site and an English site, they might have to consider that."
Julius Grey, a constitutional lawyer in Montreal, agrees the law is not specific when it comes to the internet.
"The OQLF has often tended to adopt very hard interpretation … It seems to me that when they talk about signs and so on, you’d have to then say social media are to be assimilated to signs and posters. I don’t think they are," said Grey.