OTTAWA ─ Eva Cooper says she has enough Canadians in her corner to fight Quebec's language laws.
Cooper, who owns Delilah's (in the Parc), a women's boutique in Chelsea, 10 km north of Ottawa in Quebec, received a letter from the OQLF ─ office Quebecois de la langue francaise. ─ on Feb. 18 indicating they had received a complaint that Delilah's Facebook page was in English. The letter, which was written in French, said the 45-year-old shopkeeper was violating section 52 of Quebec's language charter, which makes French the official language of the province.
The letter asked Cooper to indicate what corrective measures she would take, and gave her a deadline of March 10 to respond. If she doesn't reply by then, she risks legal action and a fine.
Cooper's response was to ask the language watchdog to resend the letter to her, this time in English.
Quebec's language charter states it's okay to post personal messages on social media in English. However, if the message is has a commercial intent, it must be available in French as well as English. Cooper, who is fully bilingual, uses Delilahs (in the Parc) Facebook page to market the fashions she sells in the store. She employs 12 bilingual employees and all signage is displayed in both French and English. She operates a second Delilah's store in the Glebe.
Cooper's defence is she has a right to express herself in whatever language she wants to on social media. That, she argues, is the very nature of social media.
"I didn't know there was an official language to Facebook," Cooper said. "Whatever happened to freedom of speech on social media? I thought social media was about freedom of speech and expression."
In lawyer Michael Geist's opinion, Cooper's caught in a murky legal issue.
"Quebec's courts have been applying language laws for 10 years and they've determined that websites are commercial publications," said Geist. "Under Quebec law, commercial websites have to use French, but the law isn't black-and-white when it comes to social media sites like Facebook because it's a personal site that functions like a commercial publication."
Cooper suspects she has been caught in the crossfire of pre-election Sovereigntist politics.
"Are we going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars monitoring social media?" she asked. "We have more important issues to worry about like getting potable water in Chelsea."
Cooper’s story has attracted a lot of attention on social and mainstream media. In the 24 hours since news broke, Delilah's (in the Parc) Facebook page has picked up more than 2,000 likes while Cooper has received hundreds of personal e-mails of support from both English and French readers.
"I've had so much support from the rest of Canada, I'm going to go the distance and challenge their case," said Cooper.
"This is an important issue. It's opened a dialogue on freedom of expression."