BUSINESS

Facebook Exempt From Quebec's French Language Law, Lawyer Says

02/28/2014 07:41 EST | Updated 04/30/2014 05:59 EDT
Quebec's language law does not have jurisdiction over social media because it's intended to start conversations and not promote or sell products, according to a Montreal-based lawyer.

Eva Cooper owns a women’s boutique clothing store with locations in Ottawa’s Glebe neighbourhood, as well as in Chelsea, Que., just north of Gatineau.

She offers customer service in French and English and her store features signs and promotional materials that are bilingual. 

But the Facebook page for Cooper’s business, Delilah {in the Parc}, features only English content. A customer recently complained to Quebec’s French language office and Cooper received a letter ordering her to translate the page, or she could face a fine.

Lawyer Michael Bergman, who specializes in constitutional and human rights issues, told CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning the Quebec government can’t regulate Facebook because it is fleeting, free communication.

Bergman believes this could become a human rights issue.

“The language charter was enacted before social media existed and, for that matter, before the internet was popular," Bergman said.

"(The French language office) is expanding into the cyber sphere an ancient concept, so to speak, of traditional advertising. Social media is far from advertising, it's an interactive dialogue."

Bergman also said the law does not stipulate all advertising must be in French and it specifically mentions just paper items such as catalogues, pamphlets or brochures.

The law in question is Quebec’s Bill 101, which Bergman said has never been challenged in court.

“The reason I joined Facebook in the first place - I didn’t do a website - was because it was a way to communicate,” she told CBC News.

Facebook an advertising tool

But the provincial language office argues Facebook is more than just a conversation.

“When it’s used for commercial publication, or commercial advertising, then it has to be written in French,” said Jean-Pierre Le Blanc, a language office spokesman. “More and more we see businesses using social media to advertise, to sell products. This is where the law comes in.”

On Thursday, social media users agreed with Cooper and expressed their opinions on, you guessed it, Facebook and Twitter.

Cooper has benefited from this story, in a way. Her Facebook page has been “liked” more than 5,200 times since her story was aired on CBC News late Wednesday night.