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  Quebec language agency cracks down on English-only Web site
Move to regulate photography page seen as stemming
the growth of the province's flourishing on-line community

Tyler Hamilton
Technology Reporter
Tuesday, June 8, 1999

Quebec's language agency is aiming to extend French-language laws into cyberspace, as it cracks down on at least one Web site based in the province.

The Office de la langue Française sent a cease and desist letter last month to Mike and Kiki Calomiris, who were told that their English-only photography Web site -- (http://www.michaelsphoto.com)-- was in violation of Article 52 of the French Language Charter.

According to the charter, all Quebec-based catalogues, brochures, commercial directories and other publications of that nature must be in French.

The agency sent its letter two weeks before the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) said it would not regulate Internet broadcasting because, among other reasons, the on-line world is already subject to Canadian law.

But observers say the Quebec government's effort to regulate language on the Internet could stem the growth of the province's flourishing on-line community, resulting in the same economic consequences that language laws have had on traditional brick and mortar businesses in the province.

"Could this result in somebody moving across the border from Hull to Ottawa? Certainly," said Michael Geist, a professor of law at the University of Ottawa who specializies in Internet issues.

Mr. Geist said nowhere in Article 52 of the Charter is there mention of electronic materials, adding that there will be considerable debate over whether Quebec's language authorities are crossing the line by interpreting -- rather than simply enforcing -- the legislation.

The agency's letter instructed the Chomedey, Que., couple to either take their Web site off the Internet or update the site so it gives equal visibility to the French language. Failure to comply would result in a fine, the agency said.

"We've decided to do neither," said Ms. Calomiris, who with her husband launched the Web site two years ago to give more exposure to their photography studio. "We've been informed [by lawyers] that this is not a legal demand they're making."

Ms. Calomiris said there's a difference between having to walk by an English-only sign every day in a community and having the option to visit or not visit a Web site that targets a global audience.

"I don't think I should be forced, not on the Internet," she said, adding that many organizations and individuals in the community have offered support.

One organization that immediately offered help was Alliance Quebec, whose mandate is to protect English-speaking communities and institutions in Quebec.

Anthony Housefather, vice-president of the Montreal-based organization, said the language office in Quebec has no constitutional right to regulate the use of French or English on the Internet.

"The World Wide Web goes beyond their jurisdiction."

Mr. Housefather said the Quebec minister in charge of language issues, Louise Beaudoin, has recently renewed the government's crackdown on businesses and communities -- Internet-based or otherwise.

This will hurt the province's economy in the long run, he said, pointing to another language law that requires Quebec-based companies with more than 50 employees to use French software for applications such as word processing and spreadsheets, even if such applications have more flaws than English versions.

Nobody at Quebec's language agency could be reached yesterday for comment, but Ms. Beaudoin has stated publicly that the province's language laws can be applied any form of communications.

In 1997, Montreal-area computer store Micro-Bytes Logiciels was sent a similar letter by Quebec's language agency. The store, despite its hesitation, opted to overhaul its Web site to make it bilingual.

Mr. Geist said the issue isn't about whether it's appropriate to apply the law to the Internet, it's more about whether the law is appropriate in the first place.

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Quebec language agency cracks down on English-only Web site
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by Tyler Hamilton - Tuesday, June 8, 1999

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