The Black Library, a British bookstore that sells science fiction novels in a number of languages, including French, has notified its customers in Quebec that it can no longer sell its products to them online. According to her, the adoption of Law 96 on the French language forces her to communicate with her customers in French on her transactional site, which she is not ready to do. Minister Jean-François Roberge’s office said it was ready to examine the situation.
Jean-Sébastien Fortin has been purchasing novels, audiobooks and e-books directly from the Black Library for nearly 20 years. These sci-fi novels are inspired by the worlds of tabletop games and video games of the parent company, Games Workshop, famous worldwide for its lead miniatures.
A true fan of these novels published since the mid-1990s, this Quebec City stuntman buys one or two a month. He particularly likes the audio books he listens to when traveling to Montreal or the United States. Today, he owns more than 250 of these works.
But at the end of last May, he received an email from the Black Library advising him that he could no longer purchase these products on the bookstore’s website.
Taken aback, he asked for an explanation. Management replied: “Businesses that offer goods and services in Quebec must serve their customers in French, including during the purchasing process on transactional sites. All communications, contracts, invoicing, etc. must be done in French. In this context, we have made the difficult decision to end our sales in Quebec. »
Jean-Sébastien Fortin simply cannot explain the Black Library’s decision to put an end to its business with its customers in Quebec and deplores the fact that he now has to turn to Amazon, which only sells part of the huge collection of the Black Library while taking a share of the sales. Does Law 96 really have such a reach? Or did the bookstore interpret the law too broadly?
“The bookstore has a web page in French, sells its books in French, but its transactional site is indeed in English, even if, we agree, we are essentially talking about a form… Will the government do the police on all transactional sites of all companies in the world to ensure that they communicate in French with their customers? »
The office of French Language Minister Jean-François Roberge reacted to this story in a written communication with La Presse. He was open to taking a closer look.
“Bill 96 protects the rights of Quebecers to receive services in French. This right is fundamental. The intention of the legislator is to ensure that all merchants wishing to operate directly in Quebec must offer Quebecers a French version of their transactional site. On the other hand, we are aware that if Quebecers want to buy books from a bookseller in another country, this will must also be respected. We will do the necessary follow-up. »
Me Jeffrey Talpis, professor specializing in private international law at the University of Montreal, admits that the line is thin when you consider the content found in the transactional part of a website. Nevertheless, he considers that Bill 96 can have extraterritorial effects without violating international law “if there is a real and substantial connection” with Quebec jurisdiction. The link here is French protection.
“It is assumed here that there is no constitutional violation, which is another, deeper question, on which I will not comment, he tells us. But let’s say it’s valid, it’s the question of the scope of the law that is interesting here. In principle, the laws of a province cannot have extraterritorial effect, but in this case, we are talking about a law that includes all Quebecers and, incidentally, the foreign companies that interact with them. »
“The frustrated client could go to court, adds Mr. Talpis, but he will probably have to bring a class action to challenge the constitutionality of the law first. Then, in a second step, the principle of the extraterritoriality of the law… But it is far from being won. In fact, it is easier for the foreign merchant to comply and to francize his transactional page, but if his clientele is not that large, he will not invest in services in French. »
Since Bill 96 came into force, consumers can sue service companies if they believe their language rights are being violated, which has no doubt convinced many of them to either comply or opt out. stop serving Quebec customers. “A court could issue an injunction, notes Me Talpis, but would this injunction be recognized abroad? I have many doubts. »
Nevertheless, in this case, the Black Library seems to have taken the lead. Who will monitor the language of communication used in other transactional sites around the world? Can Quebec afford to hunt them down? “Basically, insists Mr. Talpis, a complaint must be filed against said business. It remains to be seen whether the government will relax the application of its law in certain cases. By deciding, for example, to remove forms from its communications. To have.