Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ruff response to Quebec radio stunt

Language laws for dogs?

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MONTREAL -- It seems some people really believed that Quebec's language laws are going to the dogs -- literally.

Several media websites and a number of readers were fooled by a spoof news report, detailed on the CBC Radio satire This Is That, about the City of Montreal passing a bylaw that would require dogs to learn French and English commands.

A lot of people got the joke -- including famous U.S. dog trainer Cesar Milan. He posted on Facebook that the story was "a reminder not to believe everything you read on the Internet."

But plenty of people were fooled by the faux report, which by Friday afternoon had been shared more than 29,000 times in social media. Many of the people commenting on Facebook were angry, incredulous -- and completely oblivious to the fact the bow-wow bylaw was entirely made up.

Some news organizations were also suckered.

The story was picked up by New York magazine and the Raw Story website, which treated it seriously. Both identified it as a fake news story after it was pointed out to them it was a joke. The popular Drudge Report also linked to the CBC show page.

"Never mind," blogger Dan Amira wrote on the New York page in an acknowledgment the item was bogus.

Yahoo! News also ran the story straight on Friday, with a writer for The Slideshow calling the CBC interview "inadvertently hilarious." But in another section of the website, Yahoo! correctly identified the CBC piece as a spoof.

The stunt was first broadcast Dec. 12. It featured an interview with an earnest -- and fake -- Montreal city councillor who said the city's canines needed to understand commands in both languages or dog parks would descend into chaos.

"You have to weigh it against the alternative, which is that we're going to turn each of the city's dog parks into a renewal of the Plains of Abraham every Saturday morning," faux politician Benoit LaDouce said in the interview.

He's referring to the historic 1759 battle where British forces conquered French troops on the plains where the provincial capital is now located.

That battle was pivotal in deciding the fate of what would become Canada.

Language politics have been a periodic staple of Quebec life for generations, flaring recently with the election of a minority Parti Quebecois government planning to toughen existing laws.

Some saw the spoof -- and the reaction -- as the collateral damage of that debate. And as with everything else having to do with Quebec's language debates, there were clear battle lines drawn in the reaction to the spoof.

Some saw the gullibility as evidence that Quebec's language laws are so extreme people will believe anything. Others saw it as evidence those laws are so frequently demonized and misunderstood by people who have no idea what they're talking about.

In the real world, Quebec laws regulate the size of languages other than French on commercial signs; require that large workplaces communicate with employees in French; and set rules for who can attend public school in English.

The proponents of those laws see them as a way to ensure the survival of French in a North American sea of English. But many commentators suggested the CBC story wasn't all that far-fetched.

"Satire, yes, but it sadly rings true," Peter Christensen tweeted of the CBC spoof.

That sentiment was expressed numerous times in social media. One Twitter user, annoyed that people would blame Quebec laws to justify their own mistake, replied: "Yeah it's not just that you're a moron."

Listeners barked more than 50 comments on the Cesar Milan show's Internet page, although those that got the prank outnumbered those that didn't.

"These bylaws are a waste of time, effort and tax payer dollars. The city should be focusing on more important issues and let 'sleeping dogs lay,' wrote ScottyHodgins.

Edward r chimed in, " These counsellors really don't have anything better to do, do they?"

CBC fessed up to its stunt in a news story Friday. The headline: No, Dogs Don't Have To Be Bilingual in Montreal.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 15, 2012 A31

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