Why Quebec can't surf some major U.S. retailers' websites
Published Monday, November 17, 2014 11:12AM EST
Last Updated Monday, November 17, 2014 11:47AM EST
Access to the websites of several large U.S.-based retailers have been blocked in Quebec because they did not comply with the province's language laws.
In recent weeks, retailers including Williams-Sonoma, Urban Outfitters, and Club Monaco blocked access in Quebec to parts of their retail websites.
The Office Quebecoise de la Langue Francaise (OQLF) is the organization charged with monitoring compliance with the province’s French Language Charter, known as Bill 101. It investigates complaints about companies accused of breaking Quebec’s language laws.
When a complaint is filed about a website, the office contacts the company and gives it the option to translate it into French. But some of the retailers simply decided to block access to their websites, and instead direct customers to their physical stores in Quebec.
On the Club Monaco website, for example, the company explains in French that it does not currently have an online store "designed to meet the needs for our shoppers in Quebec."
The company also provides customers with the address for its physical store on Peel Street in Montreal.
OQLF spokesperson Jean-Pierre Le Blanc said it's important to note that the companies decided to stop Quebec web-surfers from accessing their websites, not the language watchdog.
"When we receive a complaint, we have to look at it to see if there's a problem or not," he told CTV's Canada AM. "Then we get in touch with the company, and after that we explain to them what is the law and what they have to translate."
According to the province's Charter of the French Language, companies that have a bricks-and-mortar store located in Quebec must provide all business communications in French.
Le Blanc said this is critically important, as nearly 80 per cent of the province's population uses French as their primary language.
"This is the law in Quebec. We have a language law because we're a small community all over America. I think it's important that we keep our language and the consumers of Quebec have access to the information they need," he said.
Le Blanc noted that the office tries to collaborate with companies it receives complaints about, and most have been willing to bring their virtual presence in line with the language law.
"Most of the companies have their websites in both languages, because they want the people of Quebec to be able to buy their products," he said.
"If some companies decide as a business to not serve people in Quebec, it's their decision. We're not blocking websites, it's not the way we work."