Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Pasta affair has Quebec in damage control

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MONTREAL -- Quebec's language watchdog has more on its plate than pasta.

That might be hard to imagine given the furor this week over the warning given by the Office québécois de la langue franßaise because it deemed the owner of an Italian restaurant had too much Italian on his menu. That included the word "pasta."

Usually, the enforcers of the provincial Charter of the French Language are on the lookout for miscreant public signs, ones that flaunt English over any predominance by French.

Those signs account for the biggest chunk of the 4,000 complaints the agency gets every year, as opposed to menus or other things like use of French in the workplace, says Martin Bergeron, an Office spokesman.

"It's almost half the complaints we receive."

Bergeron said the brouhaha around the pasta "takes away from the legitimate actions that we take." He said people work hard to make sure the language law is respected, and they try to do it respectfully.

The restaurant case blew up into a media firestorm, both online and in the mainstream, and was quelled after the agency backed off, citing a loophole in the language law concerning cultural products. Still, it had the Parti Québécois government, which had pledged to toughen language laws, in full damage-control mode.

Diane De Courcy, the minister responsible for the Office, said Thursday the agency would be more careful in the future.

The head of the agency will "make adjustments" in this specific case and, generally speaking, it shouldn't happen again in cases that involve foreign product names, she said.

"Not that there's ever a 100 per cent guarantee -- these are human beings doing these inspections."

Jean-Franßois Lisée, who was tasked by Premier Pauline Marois to build bridges with an already wary anglophone community, breathed a sigh of relief.

"I'm glad that the Office came to its senses," he said in Quebec City, adding it "made a mistake yesterday, corrected its mistake. It would have been better without the mistake."

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 22, 2013 A14

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