Skip to main content

In a decision released on Tuesday, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council ruled that the Montreal radio station CKOI-FM didn’t breach industry ethical rules prohibiting the use of coarse and offensive language when it aired clips with the F-word in them on two occasions this year.Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

Canada's broadcast watchdog has confirmed what aficionados of Quebec pop culture long suspected – the F-word can be used much more liberally in French.

In a decision released on Tuesday, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council ruled that the Montreal radio station CKOI-FM didn't breach industry ethical rules prohibiting the use of coarse and offensive language when it aired clips with the F-word in them on two occasions this year.

Following a listener's complaint, the council agreed with the station's argument that "this crude English word is now – unfortunately – part of the common French language."

The council cautioned, however, that broadcasters could only air the word without breaking rules if it was used sparingly, only in French-language programming and without targeting a particular person.

The CBSC had first accepted the use of the F-word in French programming in a little-noted decision in October, 2016. At the time, the decision – which dealt with a complaint about a sketch aired on Nov. 11, 2015, on the MusiquePlus television channel – drew attention because of the show's use of sex toys, flatulence jokes and other off-colour elements.

However, the 2016 decision also looked at two instances of the F-word during the MusiquePlus broadcast.

"The Panel Adjudicators note that the English word 'fuck' does not have the same vulgar connotation when used in French," the 2016 decision said.

"The Panel emphasizes, in this regard, that language is evolutionary and reflects current society. The Panel prefers to impress upon broadcasters the need for appropriate viewer advisories and correct classification of programs rather than to target the occasional usage of vernacular language."

The CBSC's view reflects the reality that, while traditional Quebec profanities invoked Catholic liturgical objects such as tabernacles, hosts or ciboria, the F-word – as an interjection, adjective or punctuation – is now often heard in casual, non-aggressive manners.

In English, the word would face rules outlined in the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' Code of Ethics for coarse language intended for adult audiences that restrict, for example, the time it can be telecast and require viewer advisories.

The council's latest case started with a Jan. 23, 2017, discussion on CKOI about Donald Trump's presidential inauguration.

A clip was heard of the singer Madonna giving a speech, where she used the F-word. The word was also aired on March 25 in a concert excerpt of a member of the band Green Day.

"The broadcaster does not take me seriously and thinks I'm annoying. That is not an acceptable response," the listener who complained said in his correspondence with the CBSC.

The listener, whose name was not disclosed by the council, also wrote to the station's owners, Cogeco Media. "That expression is in extreme poor taste and your attitude makes Cogeco a third-rate company."