Office québécois de la langue française
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The OQLF's main office, located in the old building of the École des beaux-arts de Montréal.
|Formed||March 24, 1961|
|Jurisdiction||Ministère de la Culture et des Communications du Québec|
|Headquarters||125, rue Sherbrooke Ouest, Montreal, Quebec|
|Annual budget||$19.0 million CAD (2007-2008)|
The Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) (English: Quebec Board of the French Language) is a public organization established on March 24, 1961 by the Liberal government of Jean Lesage. Attached to the Ministère de la Culture et des Communications du Québec, its initial mission, defined in its report of April 1, 1964 was "to align on international French, promote good Canadianisms and fight Anglicisms [...] work on the normalization of the language in Québec and support State intervention to carry out a global language policy that would consider notably the importance of socio-economic motivations in making French the priority language in Québec."
Its mandate was enlarged by the 1977 Charter of the French Language, which also established two other organizations: the Commission de toponymie (Commission of Toponymy) and the Conseil supérieur de la langue française (Superior Council of the French Language).
The Office was originally named Office de la langue française (OLF), and is still occasionally referred to as such. The OLF was renamed OQLF pursuant to the adoption of Bill 104 by the National Assembly of Quebec on June 12, 2003, which also merged the OLF with the Commission de protection de la langue française (Commission of protection of the French language) and part of the Conseil supérieur de la langue française.
The creation of a "Board of the French language" (Régie de la langue française) was one of the recommendations of the Tremblay Royal Commission of Inquiry on Constitutional Problems which published its five-volume report in 1956. Such an institution was part of the list of 46 vows formulated by the Second Congress on the French Language in Canada held in Quebec City in 1937.
Mission and powers
- To define and conduct Quebec's policy pertaining to linguistic officialization, terminology and francization of public administration and businesses; (Section 159)
- To monitor the linguistic situation in Québec and to report thereon to the Minister at least every five years; (Section 160)
- To see to it that French is the normal and everyday language of work, communication, commerce and business in the civil administration and in enterprises; (Section 161)
- To assist and inform the civil administration, semipublic agencies, enterprises, associations and natural persons as regards the correction and enrichment of spoken and written French in Québec; (Section 162)
- To establish the research programmes needed for the application of the Act. (Section 163)
- To make agreements or take part in joint projects with any person or agency. (Section 164)
In March 2013, the OQLF's seven members, appointed by the government for a maximum of five years, were:
- Robert Vézina : Président-directeur général
- Gordon Bernstein : Vice-président de Bernstein Delambre (Vice-President of Bernstein Delambre)
- Daniel Boyer : Secrétaire général de la (FTQ) (Vice-President of the Québec Federation of Labour)
- Monique C. Cormier : Professeure titulaire au Département de linguistique et de traduction de l’Université de Montréal (Professor in the Department of Linguistics and Translation in the University of Montréal)
- Gilles Dulude : Président de Synergroupe Conseils en ressources humaines inc. (President of Synergroupe Conseils en ressources humaines, Inc.)
- Brigitte Jacques : Sous-ministre associée responsable de l'application de la politique linguistique par intérim au ministère de la Culture et des Communications
- Marie Gendron : Directrice du Service des communications de la Ville de Laval
- Marc Termote : Professeur associé au Département de démographie de l’Université de Montréal (Professor with the Department of Demography at the University of Montréal)
Following its mandates, the OQLF offers the following services to the population of Quebec:
- General information service via toll free line, Web site and brochures;
- Francization services:
- Francization counselling (for businesses of 50 employees or more);
- Technical assistance relating to Francization of information technologies;
- Processing of complaints for non-respect of the law;
- Terminology and linguistics tools and services:
- The Grand dictionnaire terminologique;
- The Banque de dépannage linguistique;
- Personalized terminological and linguistic consultation;
- Publications of the OQLF:
- Le français au bureau, a book for the general public pertaining to administrative and commercial writing;
- Terminology works: dictionaries, lexicons addressed principally to specialists;
- Libraries: one in Montreal the other in Quebec City;
- Evaluation of competence in French by candidates to professional orders of Quebec;
Many distinctions are given by the OQLF to reward persons and organizations contributing to keeping French alive. They are given as part of the Grand gala des Mérites du français which occurs each year, usually in March during the FrancoFête.
The OQLF rewards outstanding francization efforts by persons and organizations. For over 20 years, it has been awarding the Mérites du français au travail et dans le commerce (French Merits at work and in commerce).
Since 1998, it awards the Mérites du français dans les technologies de l’information (French Merits in information technologies).
Since 1999, in collaboration with the Union des artistes (UDA), the Union des écrivaines et des écrivains québécois (UNEQ) and the Société des auteurs de radio, télévision et cinéma (SARTEC), the OQLF awards the Mérites du français dans la culture (French Merits in culture).
Since 1999, supplanting the former Mérite de la langue française (French language Merit), it awards the Prix Camille-Laurin to underline a person's effort in promoting the usefulness of quality of French in his/her social milieu.
Since 2005, in collaboration with the Association Québec-France and the Mouvement national des Québécoises et des Québécois, it awards the Prix littéraire Québec-France/Marie-Claire-Blais to a French writer for his or her first work.
In collaboration with Québec Ministry of Immigration, it awards the Mérites en francisation des nouveaux arrivants (Merits in Francization of new immigrants). One is for a "non-francophone immigrant person", another for a "person working in the field on francization of immigrants", a "Community of institutional partner of francization", and a "business".
Quebec citizens who believe their right as consumers "to be informed and served in French" is not being respected can file a complaint to the OQLF which is responsible for processing these complaints.
Contrary to a common misrepresentation, the Office does not process anonymous complaints. As per Section 168 of the Charter, the complaint must be written and contain the identity of the complainant. The Office does however ensure privacy of information as per the Act respecting Access to documents held by public bodies and the Protection of personal information. Also, the OQLF does not have the power to send an agent unless it has received a complaint. Doing so would require a vote by the members of the OQLF.
The statistics compiled by the OQLF for 2005–2006 reveal that some 1306 complainants filed 3652 complaints. 1078 (29.5%) complaints were from the region of Montreal, 883 (24.2%) from the region of Outaouais, 386 (10.6%) from Montérégie.
Breaching of Section 51, the language of products (labelling, packaging, instructions manuals, directions, warranty certificates) (article 51) amounted to 43.0% of the total. 13.8% were for breaches of Section 52, language of catalogues, pamphlets, business directories, and 9.6% were for breaches of Sections 2 and 5, the language of service.
Between April 1, 2005 and March 31, 2006, the OQLF closed 2899 complaints. There were 797 resolved cases, 523 unfounded complaints, 430 where the product was ultimately retracted from the market, 199 complaints found to be out of order, 183 cases of translated products. For the year 2006, there were 127 infractions ranging from $250 to $5000.
The OQLF was created to enforce the everyday use of the French language in Quebec. The OQLF is also one of the most visible manifestations of Quebec's tense linguistic situation and language laws, which, prior to 1988, was responsible for enforcing a regulation whereby French was the only language authorized on outdoor commercial signage. After multiple successful legal challenges, the role of the OQLF has since changed to ensuring French is the "predominant" language, meaning at least twice the size of any and all other language.
The OQLF has long been referred to as 'tongue troopers'. The term "language police" was possibly first used by the American television show 60 Minutes, which ran an investigative report on Quebec language laws. Legally, the organization has no police powers, instead relying on the threat of fines or the withholding of the company's "francisation certificate"  as enforcement techniques.
According to the statistics of the OQLF, 95% of all complaints by citizens which are judged to be valid are resolved without resorting to legal sanction. In an average year, the OQLF receives between 3000 and 4000 complaints from citizens. Forty to fifty percent of these complaints have to do with commercial products for which there is no available French manual or packaging, 25% have to do with signage in stores, 10% with websites and 5% with the language of service.
The majority of criticism directed at the OQLF is due to the perceived overzealous nature and lack of common sense in their application of their mandate. Some recent example include:
- Citing a Montreal restaurant for having a small "recommended on Tripadvisor" sticker in the bottom corner of a window. However, the issue was caused by the sticker is in English only and no French equivalent exists or is used.
- Harassing a small board game store for having a mostly English board games, despite the fact French versions did not exist for the majority of the games in question.
- Demanding a the town of St. Lazare remove "Welcome" from the town's welcome signs, leaving only the French version "Vous accueille". This despite 36.5% of the town's population being native English speakers. The town instead opted to remove all words from the welcome sign.
- Citing a small business in Chelsea, QC for replying in English to English comments on the store's Facebook page without writing a second, French version of the response.
- Citing a restaurant who specializes in grilled cheese for having "Grilled cheese" on their sign rather than the French version "sandwich au fromage fondu".
- Forcing a hospital in the Gaspé region of Quebec to remove all bilingual signage, despite the presence of a large English speaking population. The OQLF decided that, while English speakers have a constitutional right to receive medical service in English, that right did not extend to receiving a hospital card or being able to find the department needed to receive said medical treatment.
- Rejecting a complaint against OQLF because the complaint was written in English instead of French. Quebec Ombudsman later overruled OQLF's decision, pointing out under Quebec's French-language charter, government agencies can respond to citizens in 'a language other than French' (English). The decision said OQLF staff are allowed to write letters to citizens in a language other than French as long as they also include a French reply, and a note saying the English version is a translation. In addition, the ombudsman stated citizens have the option of complaining by email, mail or fax as an alternative to using an online form.
Perhaps most famously was the internationally infamous "Pastagate" scandal, when the OQLF cited an Italian restaurant for using the word "Pasta" on its menu instead of the French word "pâtes". After receiving negative coverage throughout the world including the US  and Europe, the OQLF eventually backed down, admitting to being "overzealous" and stating they will perform a review of the way these types of complaints are handled.
Originally, the Charter of the French Language (Bill 101) required that all commercial signage be in French and no other language. In 1988 Ford v. Quebec the Supreme Court of Canada ruled this was against the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. After massive protests in support of the legislation, the Bourassa Government invoked section Thirty-three of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the notwithstanding clause), allowing the language laws to override the rights and freedoms charter for a period of five years, after which they would be reviewed.
In 1993, the United Nations Human Rights Committee concluded in Ballantyne, Davidson, McIntyre v. Canada that it was outside of the Quebec government's jurisdiction to limit freedom of expression in a language of the person's choice. (See Legal dispute over Quebec's language policy.) Also in 1993, but not due to the UNHR ruling, Quebec reviewed the law and modified its language regulations to require that French be markedly predominant on exterior business signs, as suggested by the Supreme Court of Canada ruling in the case of Ford v. Quebec.
- Académie française of France, arbiter of the French language in France
- Charter of the French Language
- Ford v. Quebec (Attorney General) (1988), (2 S.C.R. 90)
- Legal dispute over Quebec's language policy
- Politics of Quebec
- Quebec French
- OQLF, Rapports de l'Office québécois de la langue française, October 2008, p. 31 Cite error: Invalid
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- 24 mars 1961 - Création de l'Office de la langue française, in Bilan du siècle, Université de Sherbrooke, retrieved on February 18, 2008
- The Charter of the French Language, on the Web site of the Office québécois de la langue française, retrieved February 18th, 2008
- Rapport annuel 2006-2007, on the Web site of the Office québécois de la langue française, retrieved February 18th, 2008
- OQLF, "Membres de l'Office québécois de la langue française", on the Web site of the Office québécois de la langue française, retrieved February 12, 2014
- Déclaration de services aux citoyens, on the Web site of the Office québécois de la langue française, retrieved February 18th, 2008
- Mérites du français au travail et dans le commerce, in the Web site of the FrancoFête, retrieved February 18th, 2008
- Mérites du français dans les technologies de l’information, in the Web site of the FrancoFête, retrieved February 18th, 2008
- Mérites en francisation des nouveaux arrivants, on the Web site of the Ministère de l’Immigration et des Communautés culturelles, retrieved February 18th, 2008
- À propos de la dictée > Jury, on the Web site of the Dictée des Amériques, retrieved February 18th, 2008
- Article 5 in the Chapter II on Fundamental language rights of the Charter of the French language, on the Web site of the Office québécois de la langue française, retrieved February 18th, 2008
- Questions générales concernant le respect des droits linguistiques, on the Web site of the Office québécois de la langue française, retrieved February 18th, 2008
- Respect des droits linguistiques et plaintes — Infractions pour l'année 2006, on the Web site of the Office québécois de la langue française, retrieved February 18, 2008
- Respect des droits linguistiques, on the Web site of the Office québécois de la langue française, retrieved February 22nd, 2008
- OQLF warns Burgundy Lion pub that TripAdvisor window sticker could violate language laws
- St-Lazare mayor vows language neutrality on welcome signs
- Quebec town makes stand for English: Told to remove ‘welcome’ sign, decides to drop French too
- English signs must be taken down in Gaspé hospitals, language watchdog rules
- Anglophones who report language violations to the Office québécois de la langue française can do so in English — and even expect a reply in their own language, the Quebec Ombudsman has ruled.