Struggling Montreal businesses dealing with language complaints

Restaurants and bars have not had an easy go during the pandemic and two business owners say in addition to their problems they now have another.

At the Petros Taverna in Westmount, the tables are set for Monday when the dining room can finally reopen.

But owner Ted Dranias says he has another headache to deal with — a letter from Quebec's language watchdog, the Office quebecois de la langue française.

“When I opened it, it kind of disgusted me,” Dranias said.

“And after living what we've been living for the past two years, I was a little bit insulted.”

The letter said a customer could not be adequately served in French.

“That's impossible. I would say 100 per cent impossible. I would switch from any language from French to English to Greek,” said Anastasios Roussopoulos at the restaurant.

They're not the only ones getting a warning. The Blue Dog Motel also got a letter this past week.

The bar is currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, but owner Raphael Kerwin told CJAD 800 someone complained about posts on the bar's Facebook page.

“It was telling us we had to change all of our social media posts, that were in French and in English,” said Kerwin.

The OQLF confirmed both establishments were sent letters and businesses need to be mindful of their online presence, just like any other advertising or signage.

“In 2020-2021, the Office received more than 1,200 complaints about social networks and websites, more than double the number the previous year,” an OQLF spokesperson said

“As a reminder, the Office does not impose a fine. It is the courts that may do this if companies refuse to comply.”

But Kerwin asks: why now?

“Here on in, sure, we will be doing it bilingually. But my problem is during this pandemic, while we're closed they've spent the time to nitpick our tiny little Facebook page, which we barely even use any more,” he said.

“So, to me, it feels like a complete waste of time.”

CTV News reached out to the minister responsible for the French language in Quebec, Simon Jolin-Barrette, for comment.

“Quebecers have the right to be served in their language: French. It is a fundamental right that all businesses must respect, at all times. It isn’t something new. It is what Bill 101 has provided since 1977,” Jolin-Barrette said in a statement.

Dranias, however, still questions the timing.

“During this time, people have to work together. They have to join together, they have to be nice to each other,” he said, “and here we're getting nitpicked in the middle of all this stuff going on.”