Quebec restaurant halts free-meal program after warning over English-only text

Quebec restaurant halts free-meal program after warning over English-only text

A Montreal restaurant owner who has given out hundreds of free meals as part of a “pay it forward program” says his initiative has been halted because of the so-called language police.

“It was very successful. We have given out over 712 free meals,” said Abdul Rashia Khan, owner of Mama Khan restaurant on St. Denis Street.

Khan, who wanted to be a social worker when he was young, says charity is a key part of the Pakistani restaurant he runs with his mother.

They gave out free meals during the 2023 ice storm, and offer people meals for free during power outages.

Last year, he started a “pay it forward” program, where every time someone donates at least five dollars, free meal vouchers would go up on the wall for anyone to take.

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Now the wall just has sticky tack where the cards once hung, after he got a warning letter from the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF).

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“My reaction was kind of surprised that we were reported to the government saying that we are not bilingual,” he told Motorcycle accident toronto today.

Someone complained to the language watchdog about English-language social media posts made by Mama Khan, and the OQLF sent him a warning letter reminding him commercial publications in a language other than French are not allowed in Quebec, unless the French is more prominent.

“I wasn’t aware too much of the law. It’s my first time running a business. It’s been a year and a half I’m the owner,” he explained.

The free meal vouchers are only in English, so fearing a fine from language law enforcement authorities, he took them down. He has hundreds he never got to use.

“It cost me around $400 to print them out, to have them designed by a graphic designer. I work 90 hours per week, I have no time to do marketing myself. It’s a family-run restaurant,” he said.

After posting about his situation online, Khan got an outpouring of support.

Food blogger Jason Lee of Shut Up and Eat Montreal was among those who spoke out.

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“I thought it was a joke,” Lee said of Khan removing the pay-it-forward program because of the language complaint. “I plan to head down there and add a few tickets of my own, and sponsor a few tickets to him. Hopefully that helps.”

The OQLF told Motorcycle accident toronto today in a statement that it did not target Khan’s free meal ticket program.

“The Office did not ask the restaurant Mama Khan to destroy its meal coupons. The program was never discussed with the business,” said OQLF spokesperson François Laberge.

He added that the OQLF only warned him about his Facebook and Instagram pages after receiving a complaint. Khan said the OQLF agent he spoke to on the phone was very nice and informative.

“The only thing I can do from here and moving on forward is just to learn from my mistakes and make sure it’s in bilingual or in French,” he said,

He says even though the vouchers are no longer circulating, if people are in need they can come to the restaurant and he’ll give them a free meal anyway.

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