Quebec language police go for the matzohs


in Ottawa

They're calling it "Matzohgate", after over-zealous Quebec language police swooped on Jewish delicatessens this week and ordered religious speciality foods, some of which had been imported for the Passover, to be taken off the shelves because they did not have French labels.

The move by inspectors from the Office de la Langue Francaise has provoked an outcry from Quebec's 100,000 strong Jewish community and moderate Francophone Quebecers who fear a sabotage of premier Lucien Bouchard's recent overtures to the province's English and immigrant communities.

Although Quebec and Canadian laws require all consumer goods to be labelled in both English and French, officials have traditionally ignored the Kosher matzoh balls, farfeh and gefilte fish imported from the US for Jewish holidays.The Canadian market is not big enough to justify production of the kosher specialties locally and there has been a similar policy towards foods imported for the Chinese community.

But the fact militants in the French language bureau chose this particular time to swoop is seen as significant.

The language police were established almost two decades ago when all languages other than French were prohibited from outdoor signs. That law was recently eased, however, to permit other languages as long as French predominates.

This followed last fall's referendum on independence in which former premier Jacques Parizeau blamed the separatists' close loss on "ethnics and money", a not-too-subtle reference to Montreal's prosperous Jews.

Since Mr Bouchard took over earlier this year he has tried to calm the English and immigrant communities. This in turn has led to a backlash among some of French-speaking militantsand bureaucrats whose raison d'etre is enforcing French laws. Now Mr Bouchard's credibility on the line.