Language Minister Louise Beaudoin says the Office de la Langue Française is within its rights to patrol the Internet for language-law violations because Web sites can be used as advertising.
And it's just good business for companies based in Quebec to advertise in French on the Internet as they would via any other medium, Beaudoin said yesterday.
"I'm always surprised when I read that when you have a shop in Montreal, you put it on the Net ... a homepage (with) not a word of French. I just don't understand. It's just respect for the clients."
Beaudoin said she doesn't know how many Quebec businesses don't conform to Bill 101's provisions on the language of advertising on their Web pages. However, she said the Office de la Langue Française has the authority to investigate and prosecute offenders.
"We'll see legally, but we think the OLF can do that."
Last Saturday, The Gazette reported that language inspectors had begun patrolling the Internet for sites that don't conform to Bill 101.
Morty Grauer, owner of a Pointe Claire computer store, Micro-Bytes Logiciels, received a letter of warning from the Office, telling him his homepage violated the language law.
Since then, Internet surfers have the Office de la Langue Française with waves of E-mail slamming the language watchdog's efforts.
"We're getting lots of (electronic) hate mail", OLF spokesman Gérald Paquette acknowledged yesterday.
Paquette said the messages began pouring in after The Gazette story Saturday.
"Whenever (the media) use 'language police', all the loonies in the world come out", he noted. "It's not pleasant, but we're used to it."
Not all the reaction was negative, however. "We got lots of technical calls from the United States yesterday", Paquette said. "There's big interest over jurisdiction of the Internet."
Grauer said he hasn't stopped fighting the Office's warning.
"I'm not accepting that (the OLF) has jurisdiction over the Net."
Micro-Bytes removed most of its homepage from the Net after receiving its warning.
Bolstered by growing support -- Micro-Bytes received more than 100 E-mail messages during the weekend and at least 20 more yesterday, besides phone calls and in-store visits -- Grauer has reinstated his homepage.
He was informed in a late-May letter that his store's Web site -- www.microbytes.com -- didn't meet the criteria of the French Language Charter's Article 52.
The clause states that catalogues, brochures, leaflets, commercial directories and all other publications of that nature must be in French.
Although it isn't specifically spelled out in Article 52, the Net is now included on that list, Paquette said.
"I think they're just pushing it to see how far they can go", Grauer argued.
He had been given until the end of the month to translate his homepage into French or risk possible sanctions.
"I'm still going ahead with a bilingual homepage (which is already 75 to 80 per cent complete), but whether it will be ready for July 1 or not, I don't know", Grauer said. "I don't think there's anything they can do."
Meanwhile, he is continuing to encourage Net users to fire off more E-mail to the government's own Web site -- www.olf.gouv.qc.ca .
Beaudoin welcomed the news that Micro-Bytes plans to add French to its website.
Paquette said Quebec businesses that have certificate of francization (firms with 50 employees or more) are being asked to have French on their Internet sites or risk having the certificates suspended or revoked.
Smaller businesses like Micro-Bytes could face other sanctions under Article 52.