A bilingual newspaper in West Quebec says it's being ordered to segregate its English and French sections, a charge the Office Québecois de la langue Francaise denies. The Pontiac Journal was issued an injunction to comply with the province's language law or face a fine.  It is a hot-button issue for both the French and English in Quebec and one that has the tiny bi- weekly paper sandwiched in between. 

Putting a newspaper together is no easy feat; add to that Quebec's complicated language laws and a small paper like the Pontiac Journal can run into trouble.

‘This is the latest edition of the Pontiac Journal,’ says the paper’s publisher Lily Ryan, ‘and it complies with the law.’

Ryan says the first order from Quebec's Office Québecois de la langue francaise  (L’OQLF) came in 2012, telling the newspaper to comply with the province’s law that dictates how French and English advertisements and articles are placed in the paper. Under section 58 of the French Language charter, commercial advertisements must be in French.  They can be in another language, providing French is the predominant language. The L’OQLF adds that an English paper can have English-only ads but if a paper publishes in both languages, advertisements must be in French only or bilingual.  A business can also decide to create distinct linguistic sections.  The paper thought it had complied with that last article by having various English and French “sections” throughout the paper.  But last month, Ryan says they were ordered to segregate the English and French sections in their entirety or face a hefty fine, up to $20,000.

‘That threat was significant,’ says Ryan, ‘so we ripped apart the paper and put it back together again with the concept of separating out the languages.’

The paper then published its own story on the issue and support in this largely bilingual community poured in.

‘I think we have to mature in this country and stop having that problem with English and French,’ says Habib Karnouk who reads the Pontiac Journal.

Doug Arthurs adds, ‘It's been going on for years and a lot of people are sick of it.’

‘The language police, I think, should be disbanded,’ concludes John Berrigan.

The L’OQLF denies it ordered the publisher to segregate its paper but says the law on advertising is clear.

‘The law is there, it is not the office who made the law,’ says Jean-Pierre Le Blanc with L’OQLF, ‘the office is there to apply it and we try to do it the best way and in a way to cause less problem.’

Lily Ryan says the newspaper's motto is "unifying the Pontiac".   She says the decision of the Office of the Language Francaise is trying to undue that.

‘Nobody separates the languages in restaurants,’ she says, ‘Nobody separates the languages in the bedroom. Why are we doing this with the newspapers?  We are reflecting back to the community what the community lives.’

Ryan says re-working the paper has been costly and time-consuming.  She says they have no choice but to comply or face the consequences.