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‘Pastagate’ fallout spurs changes for Quebec’s language watchdog

At Joe Beef, one of Montreal’s most acclaimed restaurants, decorative elements with English words have been deemed in violation of language laws.

Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Quebec's French-language watchdog is changing the way it handles public complaints, eight months after the controversy known as "Pastagate" subjected the province's language inspections to widespread derision.

The Parti Québécois minister responsible for the language file, Diane De Courcy, told a press conference in Montreal on Friday that the new rules would be more transparent and would put language flaps "behind us."

She said the new triage system would make the approach to complaints more "measured" and "balanced."

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Under the new rules, the agency responsible for applying Quebec's French-language charter, the Office québécois de la langue française, would screen the approximately 4,000 annual complaints it receives from the public and stream them into two categories.

"Collective and general interest" complaints dealing with subjects such as commercial signs or product labels would be evaluated and dealt with according to yet-to-be-defined criteria. These kinds of grievances make up 95 per cent of all complaints.

More attention would be given to "direct and personal" complaints. This category would include someone receiving an English-only bank statement or being served in English in a store.

The Pastagate controversy was unleashed after the OQLF received a complaint about the lack of French on menus at the Montreal eatery Buonanotte; the owner was ordered to remove "Pasta" and other words from the menu. Media worldwide covered the ensuing uproar.

Under the rules announced Friday, a complaint about menus would fall under the "general" complaint category, which means the OQLF would carefully screen them before acting.

Officials said the OQLF would not hire additional staff or add to its $24-million annual budget to handle the changes.

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About the Author

Ingrid Peritz has been a Montreal-based correspondent for The Globe and Mail since 1998. Her reporting on the plight of Canadians suffering from the damaging effects of the drug thalidomide helped victims obtain federal compensation and earned The Globe and Mail a National Newspaper Award, Canadian Journalism Foundation award, and the Michener Award for public service. More

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