Quebec blocks sale of kosher food labeled only in English imports hit

Passover week crackdown based on language law

April 10, 1996|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

TORONTO -- In a Passover week crackdown that has outraged Montreal's 100,000-member Jewish community, the Quebec government has blocked the distribution of kosher foods labeled only in English because they violate the province's law requiring French on all packaging.

Although kosher food labeled in French is available year-round in Quebec, supermarkets import additional products from the United States and Israel for Passover, when special food is needed. Those typically are labeled only in English because there isn't time to relabel them locally in French.

For 10 years, the government had permitted this under what Jewish community leaders call a "tacit understanding" to exempt Passover imports. But a March 20 letter from the provincial Office of the French Language ordered an end to the practice.

David Sultan, director of community relations for the Canadian Jewish Congress in Montreal, said there are enough kosher foods remaining in the markets to meet the needs of the community, but he added that has not reduced the outcry.

Mr. Sultan's organization contends that kosher foods are exempt from the law under a provision allowing exceptions for products with limited use and for those that can't be easily replaced.

A spokeswoman for separatist Premier Lucien Bouchard said the premier was vacationing in Florida and unavailable for comment.

The controversy is the latest example of continuing tension between the Quebec government, which favors making Quebec a French-speaking nation independent of Canada, and the province's English-speaking minority and ethnic communities, which overwhelmingly back continued union with Canada.

Quebec's language law requires businesses with 50 or more employees to work in French and requires French labeling on products and outdoor signs.

Pub Date: 4/10/96

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