Commission de protection de la langue française


Angry posse of Shawville residents runs language inspector out of town

Greg Younger-Lewis and Derek McNaughton

Ottawa Citizen 30 June 1999



A posse of Shawville, Que., residents, fed up with being harassed about business signs, has run one of Quebec's language police out of town -- and the residents say that if they have to, they'll do it again.

"At this point we are taking a stand, because I'm no longer being made to feel guilty for being English in Quebec," says Lynn Wilson, co-owner of the H&R Block in Shawville, a predominantly English town of 1,500 about 80 kilometres northwest of Ottawa.

"Come and take me away -- I don't care, do what you have to do. I'm not changing (my signs)."

Mrs. Wilson, 37, was already nervous about the language police after she and her brother received notice from a bailiff in February. The notice said they had 30 days to remove or alter English-language signs displaying their store hours and advertising cold beer for sale.

Shawville has had a history of tensions with the language police: the local Chrysler dealership, a shoe shop, and Murray Sports and Casual Wear have all been fined for not obeying Quebec's French sign law.

"It's pure harassment, that's what it is," says Barrie Murray, owner of the sports store, who's been to court eight times in two years over his fines. He says he even had one inspector tell him "I shouldn't be able to work in the store because I can't speak French."

Shawville Chrysler owner Ronald Eades was also issued a $160 ticket in 1996 for his signs. He has been to court twice, yet has no plans to pay any fines.

"They don't tell you anything except how much money you owe them," he says. "When I get notices, I just throw them on the shelf."

But the most recent incident, the one that provoked Mrs. Wilson and some of her fellow residents, began on the morning of June 17, when inspector Lucie Couvrette, from the Office de la langue francaise, drove into town in a new Ford minivan and began taking photographs of the English-language signs outside Mrs. Wilson's business, which her family has owned and operated for 20 years.

The inspector identified herself, and told Mrs. Wilson all her signs were illegal because, under Quebec law, stores are permitted to post bilingual signs only if the French text is predominant.

Ms. Couvrette also wanted to know whether Mrs. Wilson paid royalties to H&R Block's head office in Calgary. Mrs. Wilson grew indignant, expressed her dissatisfaction in familiar English, and asked Ms. Couvrette to leave.

"I told her never to take a picture again without permission," says Mrs. Wilson. "No one should have to change their signs if they don't want to. We're serving our customers just fine, so they (the language police) shouldn't try to fix something that's not broken. It's not the government's place."

But Mrs. Wilson didn't stop with the verbal confrontation. She got in her car and followed Ms. Couvrette, saying she was going to warn other business owners about the inspector, who was now parked a few blocks away at the post office.

When Ms. Couvrette spotted Mrs. Wilson watching her , she drove away. That's when Mrs. Wilson drove back to her office and called for backup. She called a village councillor who wasn't home, other business owners, and Shawville's mayor. And she enlisted her brother, who in his black pick-up truck also shadowed the unwelcome inspector.

Soon, a multiple-vehicle parade was trailing the inspector around town. When Ms. Couvrette stopped near a veterinarian's office, Mayor Albert Armstrong climbed out of his car.

"I spoke with her politely, explaining that I was going to waste my day and follow her around town until she left," says Mr. Armstrong, a retired, bilingual electrician for Hydro-Quebec.

"I told her I had received reports that she was infringing on other people's privacy and that I was going to follow her around and take pictures of her when she was taking pictures of something else."

That, he says, incited the inspector's considerable wrath.

"I never saw a person get so angry without getting volatile," says Mr. Armstrong, 56.

Mrs. Wilson, meanwhile, had called in heavy artillery in the form of the local newspaper, The Equity, whose photographer began to take pictures of Ms. Couvrette. The paper's reporter began to ask questions. Ms. Couvrette's anger intensified. She did not want to be photographed, and she called her supervisor by cellphone. The supervisor, says Mr. Armstrong, ordered the villagers' entourage to stop following the inspector.

But the mayor refused. He said he made it clear that his purpose was not to harass anyone, but to keep an eye on anyone who made his constituents uncomfortable.

"If I'm doing my job the way it's supposed to be done, and someone wanted to watch me, there's no reason I should feel nervous about it," says Mr. Armstrong.

Ms. Couvrette began to drive away. The mayor and his companions trailed her for a few more minutes, until she merged onto Highway 148 out of town and vanished over the horizon.

An official with the Office de la Langue Francaise declined to comment on the incident yesterday, but said an investigation into the matter is under way.

Now the Shawville pursuers are unsure what repercussions will follow for turning up the heat on the language police. They don't know whether they stirred up a hornets' nest or have been "put on the blacklist."

Still, they say, no one should force them to change their signs.

"All we're doing is working seven days a week trying to make a living," says Mrs. Wilson. "These people come along and it's just a slap in the face, and it's frustrating because it's my tax dollars paying for her."

(Traduction)

"Police de la langue boutée hors de la ville par des habitants entêtés

Commerçants irrités par une inspectrice du Québec photographiant leurs panneaux en anglais

Shawville (Québec). Le maire et plusieurs commerçants qui ont bouté hors de leur ville une inspectrice du Québec ont prévenu la Police de la langue du Québec qu'elle devait s'attendre à une autre confrontation s'ils revenaient.

"Nous prenons position à ce moment-ci parce que je ne supporte plus qu'on me culpabilise parce que je suis une Anglaise au Québec", de déclarer Lynn Wilson, la copropriétaire du bureau H&R Block de cette ville de 1500 âmes à majorité anglophone, située à 80 km au nord-ouest d'Ottawa.

"Venez et emmenez-moi -- je m'en fiche, faites ce que vous avez à faire. Je ne changerai pas."

Les lois sur l'affichage du Québec permettent les affiches bilingues pour autant que le français soit prédominant. De nombreuses affiches au bureau de Mme Wilson sont en anglais seulement, comme celles de nombreux autres commerces en ville.

Quand Louise Couvrette de l'Office de la langue française est arrivée en ville le 17 juin et a commencé à prendre des photos de la franchise de H&R Block, Mme Wilson devint indignée et lui demanda de quitter les lieux.

"Personne ne devrait avoir à changer ses affiches s'il ne le veut pas, dit Mme Wilson, nous servons nos clients comme il faut."

Quand Mme Couvrette quitta, Mme Wilson l'a suivie en voiture. Elle s'arrêta alors dans une cabine téléphonique pour rassembler un détachement de commerçants ainsi que le maire Albert Armstrong. Alors qu'elle prévenait les autres commerçants de la présence de Mme Couvrette, le frère de Mme Wilson, Blake Pirie, propriétaire d'un poste d'essence jouxtant le bureau de H&R Block et dont les affiches avaient également été photographiées, suivait à la trace, au volant de son camion, Mme Couvrette.

"Elle s'est enfin arrêtée et je lui ai parlé poliment (!!!) pour lui expliquer que j'allais gâcher ma journée et la filer dans la ville jusqu'à ce qu'elle parte", de dire M. Armstrong. "Je lui ai dit que l'on m'avait rapporté qu'elle portait atteinte à la vie privée des gens et que j'allais la suivre et la photographier quand elle-même photographierait autre chose. Si je faisais mon boulot comme il faut et que quelqu'un voulait m'observer, il n'y aurait pas de raison de me sentir mal à l'aise", ajouta-t-il.

Le convoi de plusieurs voitures suivit donc à la trace Mme Couvrette jusqu'à ce qu'elle s'engage sur l'autoroute.

Mme Wilson et son frère avait reçu par huissier des avis leur signifiant qu'ils avaient 30 jours pour enlever ou modifier leurs affiches. De nombreux autres commerces à Shawville ont reçu des avis, des mises en demeure et des amendes pour infractions aux lois sur l'affichage.

Un porte-parole à l'Office de la langue française a refusé de faire tout commentaire tout en déclarant qu'une enquête était en cours.

Les membres du détachement de Shawville ignorent quelles seront les répercussions de ce durcissement envers la police de la langue. "Les choses pourraient s'empirer ou s'améliorer, dit Mme Wilson, attendons voir."


(Traduction par "Patrick Andries" AGQ) Nouvelle tirée du National Post d'hier (Le Devoir, Le Soleil, Le Droit ou La Presse en ont-ils parlé ?) en page A4. (ma traduction rapide en un jet)

Je ne sais pas ce que vous en pensez, mais moi d'une part je pense qu'il faut saluer le merveilleux travail que font les inspecteurs de l'OLF et qu'il faut sévir envers des gens qui harcèlent ainsi des gens et cela, en outre, dans l'exercice de leur fonction. P. Andries, AGQ


Même nouvelle dans le Journal de Montréal avec, en prime, l'assentiment de Chrétien au geste des anglos de Shawville... Deux poids, 2 mesures: voir affaire David Levine à Ottawa pis l'affaire Monfort!

Pierre Grandchamp, AGQ