The province's language police are pulling on to the Information Highway.
The Office de la Langue Française has already put the bite on Micro-Bytes, and other Quebec businesses with World Wide Web sites on the Internet could be next.
Micro-Bytes Logiciels, a Pointe Claire computer store, has removed most of its homepage from the Net after receiving notice from the OLF last month that the company is in violation of the French Language Charter.
"I don't need subpoenas, fines or going to court so that was the easiest thing to do," Micro-Bytes owner Morty Grauer said yesterday in explaining why he closed a large secti1on of his homepage.
Grauer was told by the OLF in a May 29 letter that his store's Web site - www.microbytes.com - doesn't meet the criteria of the language charter's Article 52 - which states that catalogues, brochures, leaflets, commercial directories and all other publications of that nature must be in French.
That appears now to include the Net.
"Quebec enterprises that have their certificate of francization (firms with 50 employees or more) will be asked to have French on their Internet sites," OLF spokesman Gérald Paquette said yesterday. "We're in the early stage of asking these companies to have French on the Internet."
In the case of businesses with 49 or fewer workers, "we won't intervene."
But while admitting that Article 52 makes no mention of the Net, Paquette said the OLF will still pursue Quebec businesses that refuse to include French on their Web sites.
"They could have their certificates (of francization) suspended or revoked," he warned.
Paquette said no research has yet been done to find out how many certificate holders have Net sites, "but that will be done this year."
Graeur, who employs about 40 workers in his shop, first received a letter from the OLF Feb. 6 advising him to use French on his Web site.
He was informed in the May 29 missive that a check done March 10 showed the situation wasn't corrected and Micro-Bytes was given 30 days to make the necessary changes.
"I had planned on changing and was slowly translating (the homepage)," Graeur said. "As of last week, 75 to 80 per cent of it was bilingual.
"I don't mind doing it bilingually but what gets my goat is when they make me do something. I'm enraged right now. How can they tell you what to do on the Internet?"
Michel Leclerc, who works for a firm that designs Web sites for Quebec companies, said he believes most companies in the province operated by anglophones already have French Web sites.
"The whole point of going on the Web is to expand your business," said Leclerc, director of graphic services for BCP, a Montreal advertising agency.
"Some people have their Web sites in French, English and other languages such as Spanish. With the Web, even Europeans can access your market, so why not try to reach them?"
Leclerc said he hasn't heard francophones complaining about English-only Web sites in the province.
"A lot of companies have specialists set up their Web sites and they can do sites in French as well as English."
Christopher Churchill, another BCP employee who advises companies on Web sites, said English firms in Quebec "respect the environment that we are working in."
He said he hasn't noticed whether firms have English-only Web sites because when he searches the Net, his sole interest is information, not whether language laws are obeyed.
"If your motivation is to look for a language law that's something totally different," he said. "But I don't think that's the spirit of the Internet."
Julius Grey, a Montreal lawyer who has handled many cases dealing with freedom of expression, said there is nothing in Bill 101 giving the OLF the legal justification to serve infraction notices dealing with Internet communications. What's more, he said, Internet communication is international in scope, so the OLF has no jurisdiction over it.
Still, Grey said he supports state-sponsored efforts to increase French-language content on the Internet. But he said he is disappointed the government, through the OLF, has chosen to "browbeat" businessess like Micro-Bytes instead of using tax dollars to provide financial subsidies and technical assistance to help businesses design Websites with quality French-language content.
"It's a typical attempt to browbeat, when there's a whole other way they could be doing things," said Grey. Graeur said his Website receives about 100 visits, also known as hits, a day.
"A lot of those customers are basically angered that other features on our homepage are gone," he added.
Aside from the special of the week and a price list, all that is left on the homepage are a few notices - in French and English.
The first announcement reads: "Thanks to l'Office de la Langue Française for closing off some sections of the homepage. For comments and complaints, please contact them (via E-mail) at email@example.com."
Paquette was unable to say how many complaints the OLF received concerning Micro-Bytes.
In a similar scenario overseas, the Police Court of Paris refused Monday to force Georgia Tech's campus in eastern France to translate its Internet site into French.
Two groups, the Association for the Defence of the French Language and the Future of the French Language, tried to sue the campus and force it to make its Web site bilingual.
An estimated 85 per cent of Internet sites worldwide are in English and ab out 2 per cent are in French.
additional reporting: Katherine Wilton of the gazette