Quebec Language Police Aim At More Montreal Restaurants

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More Montreal restaurateurs are speaking out about the demands imposed by Quebec's language police over signs and menu items that are not in French. (Alamy)
More Montreal restaurateurs are speaking out about the demands imposed by Quebec's language police over signs and menu items that are not in French. (Alamy)

More Montreal restaurateurs are speaking out about the demands imposed by Quebec's language police over signs and menu items that are not in French.

Several restaurants, including Joe Beef, a high-end establishment in Montreal's Little Burgundy neighbourhood, and Brasserie Holder, an eatery located in Montreal's Old Port, say they have been ordered to remove English or foreign words from menus and decor.

According to Maurice Holder, the owner of Brasserie Holder, the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) asked the restaurant to comply with the law, Bill 101, and get rid of several things around the kitchen.

Holder said his chef's grocery list, which was written on a blackboard when the language police dropped by the restaurant, said "salade, oeuf, sucre and steak."

The OQLF told Holder to change "steak" to "bifteck," he said.

The restaurateur said he was also asked to cover up print on a hot water switch that read "on/off."

When a first layer of opaque tape failed to cover up the English words, Holder said he was told to add a second layer of tape.

David McMillan, the co-owner and chef at Joe Beef, was also asked to take down vintage signs in his restaurant and told to translate some items on his menu into French.

Maison Publique may not comply

Derek Dammann, the chef at Maison Publique, co-owned by world-renowned television chef Jamie Oliver, told CBC Radio Montreal's morning program Daybreak that the OQLF paid the restaurant two visits after someone complained.

"They come in, took pictures of everything and don't say a word [about what the complaint is]," said Dammann.

Dammann said Plateau Mont-Royal borough officials came by the restaurant a few days later to tell management to get rid of a large mural on the outside of the building.

Daniel Sanger, a political attaché at the borough of Plateau-Mont-Royal, said the order to take down the mural had nothing to do with the OQLF, but was because the restaurant had no permit for the mural.

Damman said the restaurant would most likely refuse to comply with the OQLF's demands because many other establishments seem to be fighting the language police requests.

"I mean, where it stands right now, everyone seems to be kicking up a fuss. I'm not going to be one to lie down and just … take it," said Dammann.

Félix Léonard Gagné, the manager at Maison Publique, said the OQLF is dredging up old issues.

"I think it's just maybe old problems and stuff that we don't need to deal [with right now]," he said. "Like some old problems that we keep stirring up and taking back to the surface that we don't [need in the future.]"

Last week, the OQLF issued a warning to the owners of Buonanotte, a chic Italian eatery in Montreal, for using Italian to name menu items, including the word "pasta."

The OQLF backed down, following a public outcry.

OQLF spokesman Martin Bergeron said that outcry prompted the language police to review its order.

"We should not have asked for that," he said. "But we did. It's a mistake. Maybe it's a little bit of zeal, but the important thing is we look at it more closely, and we come to the conclusion that there is nothing there."

Ministry to review OQLF

In a news release issued Monday afternoon, Quebec Language Minister Diane De Courcy announced the government would be taking a closer look at the way the OQLF handles complaints.

With the help of the cultural communities and immigration ministry (MICC), De Courcy said her ministry would look at ways to improve the processes used when complaints are made to the language watchdog.

"At the ministry, we have verification experts that can help the organization with processing complaints to apply strict laws without creating unnecessary irritants. I mandated authorities at the MICC with this task in order to take action quickly," said De Courcy in the release.

The ministry said it will be taking a look at the way the OQLF applies the laws written in the French-language charter and issue a report in March.

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