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Record number of language complaints in Quebec -- but numbers don't tell the whole story, says QCGN

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Quebec's French-language watchdog is experiencing record numbers of citizen complaints about the province's French-language charter not being respected.

The Office Quebecois de la Langue Francais (OQLF) reported 5,445 complaints in 2021 and January 2022, an increase of over 1,100 from the same period in 2020-2021 (4,326).

The highest percentage of complaints, based on documents from the OQLF, comes from commercial documentation (38 per cent) such as websites (25 per cent) and flyers, offers of employment, bills, contracts and other documentation (13 per cent).

The other major area of concern is language of service, which made up 31 per cent of complaints.

"In recent years, the Office québécois de la langue française has seen a steady increase in the number of complaints filed by citizens," said OQLF public relations officer Chantal Bouchard. "With the 2021-2022 fiscal year far from over, the Office is recording a record number of complaints."

The increase in complaints shows the need for Bill 96, the province's update to the French Language Charter, said Quebec's Minister Responsible for the French Language, Simon Jolin-Barrette.

"This increase in complaints shows that Quebecers are worried about the French language in Quebec," said Jolin-Barrette's media attache Elisabeth Gosselin. "The decline of French is noticeable everywhere and it is urgent to act. It should not be complicated to be informed or served in French in Quebec."

But the numbers don't tell the whole story, said Eva Ludwig of the Quebec Community Groups Network, an organization supporting the English community in Quebec.

"Just throwing out numbers like that don't necessarily reflect what's going on on the ground," she said. "We need a better analysis of it."

For example, one person could make 20 complaints, said Ludwig, and there is no information on whether the complaints were founded or not.

"I've seen that there are a certain number of people that make a habit of complaining," said Ludwig. "You have a certain number of people who have a very strong, nationalistic view of the French language, who put in complaints on a regular basis. There's a lack of understanding or really knowing what is the nature of the complaints."

Ludwig said the QCGN supports French as a common language and that citizens should respect the French Charter.

She pointed to the very low number of complaints related to the language of work (6 per cent) as showing that working people are not complaining.

"That means that the environment of work is conducive to French," said Ludwig.

CTV News reported on multiple businesses and individuals who were the targets of language complaints, including a hotel, Greek restaurant and real estate broker.

Petros Taverna owner Ted Dranais said he was "disgusted" to receive a letter from the OQLF, particularly after two hard years of trying to survive during the COVID-19 pandemic and the related lockdown measures.

"After living what we've been living for the past two years, I was a little bit insulted,” he told CTV News.

Every fiscal year since 2017-2018 when 2,724 complaints were filed has seen an increase. The three years since Francois Legault's CAQ government took power saw record numbers of complaints (there were 3,665 complaints in 2019-2020).

"The high number of complaints is a clear indication of Quebecers' growing concern about the survival of the French language and their commitment to its protection," said Bouchard.

Gosselin said Bill 96 will give citizens more recourse to address language issues without specifying what further powers they will have.

The QCGN favours improving the situation through education and not enforcement.

"Through support when there are infractions, and not to use such numbers as a reason for drastic measures," said Ludwig. "I would consider Bill 96 as a drastic measure, as I would consider the new powers that Bill 96 is proposing to give to the office."

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