A western Quebec newspaper publisher says an order from the Office québécois de la langue française forcing her to segregate her English advertising "to the back of the bus" goes against the spirit of bilingualism in the region.
Pontiac Journal co-publisher Lily Ryan says the biweekly newspaper for the regional municipalities of the Pontiac has been bilingual for years, offering different content in both French and English in order to serve a community she says wants the news in both languages.
But that content was often blended - with French and English both on the front page and then French, English and bilingual pages in any order, depending on the relevance or tone of the content. And not every article or editorial was translated in both languages.
"The communities, the homes, the bedrooms are not segregated in Pontiac, why would the newspaper be segregated?" asked Ryan.
Similarly, the advertisements in the paper did not follow a set standard, and that's where the newspaper's troubles began.
Letter ordered change in April
The Office de la langue française became involved in 2012 following a complaint that the newspaper was not obeying the province's language charter. A spokesperson also said the office investigates all complaints.
On April 16 this year, the office issued a "mise en demeure" requiring the newspaper to keep English-only ads confined to a single section of English-only content.
"Now we have to group all English-only content in an English-only section, and it has to be at the back of the bus," she says, meaning the English section must not have prominence over the French and bilingual sections.
The OQLF said in a statement it is not regulating the content of the newspaper, but says that article 58 of the French language charter clearly says commercial advertising must be in French or bilingual with French given prominence.
English-only ads can only appear in an English-only newspaper or in a clearly-defined English section.
Beyond disagreeing with the principle of the decision, Ryan says the order makes laying out the paper a nightmare, since she often sells ads that appear in multiple papers at once.
She also says she cannot control the language advertisers will choose to publish in.
"We're a very small business," she said. "We can't afford to give English-only advertisers extra inches to make their ads bilingual, and they can't afford to pay them."
The Journal could avoid the troubles if it produced an English-only newspaper, but then it would miss half the community, said Ryan. And a word-for-word bilingual paper would halve the content per page, she says.
"We aren't government where we translate everything and it's really boring. This is dynamic, real life as reflected to our readers and our advertisers," she says.