Mario Tremblay is the founder and CEO of RobotShop.com, a website dedicated to all things robotic, and he's just launched an online marketplace for all the gizmos and gadgets you need to build these wonderful machines that are sure to replace us. The only problem is he's run afoul of the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF), which recently sent him a letter stating his website is violating Quebec's French-language laws.
But Tremblay says it would be impossible for him to comply with Article 51 of the language charter, which mandates that all products have inscriptions in French, as he has no control over the manufacturers selling what could be millions of products on his website, as most of them are outside Quebec.
"We cannot comply with article 51 of the French charter," he said. "This is just impossible. Physically, economically, it doesn't make sense."
Tremblay says the OQLF has left him with limited options
He received the letter from the OQLF about a month ago.
He said he's got two months to respond and is considering moving his headquarters elsewhere.
"You know a headquarters can be anywhere in the world," he said. "We have operations in the United States and Europe. We have some people in Japan. So, the people making decisions can be anywhere in the world."
Alternatively, he could close the website, which is headquartered in Mirabel, to all Quebecers, which would also fix the problem.
"Right now, we are evaluating all of our options," he said.
He says he feels the OQLF isn't listening
On RobotShop.com, all of the descriptions of the products can be accessed in French.
The problem is most of the products are made outside Quebec, which means the writing on the packaging, the user's manual inside the box, or the warranty certificate could be in English or some other language.
"So [the OQLF] asked us to translate everything that is present on the website, all the products, all the packaging, everything," said Tremblay.
"Even if we asked the manufacture to do it, and we do ask sometimes for some products, the manufacturers often say no because the volume is not high enough, or they don't want to do it."
"A lot of products in robotics are not for the mass market," he continued. "These are very niche specialized products in low volume coming from manufacturers outside Quebec."
In a statement shared with MTL Blog, the OQLF explained that it has "offered its assistance and support to the company in its francization efforts," even "[providing] vocabularies from the field of computer science and high technology, including one on artificial intelligence."
The office says "it remains available to assist companies in this process and to answer questions and requests for clarification."
He's calling for an update to Quebec's French-language laws
Tremblay said Quebec's tech sector is falling behind the rest of the world.
"We are behind the competition and we should put more effort to invest in robotics," he said. "This is why we want to take a leadership position with the RobotShop marketplace."
Tremblay said he has no problem with efforts to protect French in Quebec but said the laws need to be updated or the province could be frozen out of the global robotics industry, which is projected to reach $248.5 billion in revenue by 2025.
"In 2020, e-commerce is a reality," he said.
"When the law was written, there was no e-commerce at all, so this law needs to be updated."