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Quebec Premier Pauline Marois responds to Opposition questions on Dec. 5, 2013, at the legislature in Quebec City. (JACQUES BOISSINOT/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Quebec Premier Pauline Marois responds to Opposition questions on Dec. 5, 2013, at the legislature in Quebec City. (JACQUES BOISSINOT/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Globe editorial

Quebec goes from 'Pastagate' to 'Livre du visage' Add to ...

Two weeks ago, the Facebook page for Delilah {in the Parc}, a women’s clothing boutique with locations in Ottawa and Chelsea, Que., had fewer than 600 likes. As of Monday afternoon, it had 10,110; by the end of this week, that number may well have doubled. This remarkable surge in popularity comes courtesy of the Office québécois de la langue française, Quebec’s Inspector Clouseau-esque language police, which has ordered the store’s owner to translate her posts on Facebook into French, or face legal action. No one can say Quebec’s bureaucracy doesn’t know how to promote small business.

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The boutique’s owner, Eva Cooper, has been gracious about the OQLF’s latest gaffe. She says she respects the right of Quebeckers to defend the French language. She points out that both her stores are staffed with bilingual employees, and that in her Chelsea store she obeys Quebec’s language laws about signage and commercial flyers. But she wonders whether the language police have jurisdiction over social media. Excellent question.

We don’t think they do. Social media, whether in the hands of a private individual or a large corporation, is about having a conversation. Twitter and Facebook may be trying to sell ads and promote commercial interests around all the exchanges that take place on their servers, but the exchanges themselves are what matter. These fleeting thoughts and opinions are not the same as advertising. A boutique owner like Ms. Cooper can post “Happy Friday!” or “Painting and cleaning ..... we are busy so we can unpack the Spring 2014 clothing” on her Facebook page in as many or as few languages as she chooses.

The OQLF will challenge that, obviously, and will come across as out-of-touch and heavy-handed in doing so. It will also demonstrate that the Parti Québécois government of Pauline Marois has a short memory. The PQ was badly embarrassed in February 2013 when a language inspector went after an Italian restaurant in Montreal for using words like “pasta” and “calamari” on the French version of its menu. The head of the OQLF was forced to resign, and the government vowed to be more discriminating about the complaints it let the OQLF investigate. But we’re likely heading into an election, so linguistic provocation is back on the menu.

Plus ça change... The Pastagate story, by the way, first broke on Twitter and Facebook.

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