The Montreal Gazette
Saturday, June 5, 1999

Snared in the language Web

Watchdog orders businessman to get rid of English-only Internet site

by Amanda Jelowicki

In the 10 years he has been in business in Chomedey, Mike Calomiris says, he has always ensured his photography studio respects Quebec's language law.

All commercial signs at his studio on Notre Dame St. in Chomedey are bilingual. But he never expected the long arm of the law to come knocking at his door because his company's 2-year-old Web site is written in English only.

Calomiris received a letter from the Commission de Protection de la Langue Francaise May 3 warning that his company's Web site, at www.michaelsphoto.com, violated Article 52 of the French Language Charter, which says catalogues, brochures, leaflets, commercial directories, and other publications of that nature must be in French.

The letter said the home page can be in a language other than French, as long as French is as visible as the other language.

The Commission offered Calomiris two solutions: take his Web site entirely off the Internet, or to take it off temporarily until a French version is available. If he does not, he will be fined, the letter said.

Calomiris said it would cost him $1,500 to create a duplicate site in French, an expense he can't justify.

"I really don't have French customers, so I don't see the point in having a French site", Calomiris said. "These guys are wasting our money because I have an English Web site. It's very prejudiced. This is an electronic age, and my Web site is not a brochure."

The debate over the language of Web sites of Quebec companies has surfaced before. In 1997, Micro-Bytes Logiciels of Pointe Claire removed most of its home page from the Internet after receiving a similar letter from the commission.

Today, Micro-Bytes's Web page is bilingual. CEO Morty Grauer admitted it would be foolish for a Quebec company not to cater to the majority French clientele, but also said the government has no business policing advertising on a medium as global as the Internet.

"The Web is not thrown into your face. You have to select where you're going", Grauer said. "It's different if you're putting flyers in someone's home. How can they regulate what is an advertising media? Do they tell people to advertise both in La Presse and The Gazette?"

Martin Roy, Language Minister Louise Beaudoin's press aide, said he does not comment on individual cases that are being pursued by the commission. But he said Beaudoin's position on the language of Internet Web sites by Quebec companies was made clear in an opinion piece she wrote for The Gazette two years ago.

Beaudoin wrote: "Quebec's jurisdiction (over consumer protection and advertising) applies regardless of the medium used, whether it be mail or the Internet."

Roy made it clear the commission does not surf the Internet looking for violators of the law. Instead, it will only follow up a complaint.

Copyright © 1999 by The Montreal Gazette. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.