The Suburban, Nov. 20, 2013, Joel Goldenberg

Toys R Us is adding English content to its store signage at its Jean Talon and Décarie store and other Montreal-area stores in Vaudreuil and Pointe Claire, after receiving several complaints from customers.

One of those complaints was from this reporter, who approached an employee with the signage issue — I was told the decision was made by head office. And another complainant, among many, was Côte St. Luc Councillor Ruth Kovac, who called the Toronto head office.

The new store is located in close proximity to Côte St. Luc and Hampstead, both of which have majority anglophone populations. Complaints were also received about the lack of product descriptions in English, the lack of English on flyers and the lack of English versions of talking toys.

When I first entered the store, the only English in evidence was a sign saying the store was open Remembrance Day; and the English-only display leading into the video game section. According to Quebec’s language law, English is allowed on signs as long as French is predominant. There are many bilingual signs designating sections (houseware, electronics) at the neighbouring Wal-Mart store.

On Thursday, The Suburban learned from the Toronto head office that English content would be added to signs. That afternoon, Liz Macdonald, vice president of marketing and store planning at Toys R Us, confirmed this on Aaron Rand’s CJAD show.

Macdonald said on the show that the store was aware of the French predominance provision in the language law.

“In the past, what would happen is we would say to our associates, ‘here’s some English signs, please put them up throughout the store,’ but then you wouldn’t necessarily go and count every French sign and make sure there were two French signs to every English sign,” she explained. “They would be not necessarily in compliance with the law. We got caught a couple of times and we were fined for having too much English and not having the right proportion.

“So after a couple of fines and realizing, how realistic is it to ask an associate to go around and count — ‘we have 10 price match signs, now are eight of them in French and two in English’ — we overreacted a little bit, to be honest, and said ‘we’re just going to go French.’ We get inspected and looked at quite regularly.”

Macdonald said Thursday that English signs arrived at the Décarie, Pointe Claire and Vaudreuil stores that same day.

“Our policy signs are going up in English and French, our ‘hot toys’ items and signs are also going up in English, and you’ll see that throughout the store,” she added. “Some of the navigational [section] signage will have to be specifically designed to meet the requirements, and that will come in the next month or so.”

Macdonald also said an English talking toy can’t be sold in Quebec unless a French version is available, unless there’s an education exemption.

Kovac was elated at the signage news. “Toys R Us contacted me from their corporate head office,” she wrote in an e-mail to The Suburban. “They acknowledged the issues I raised and will be placing English signs not only at the new Décarie store but in others as well. They will also add English flyers to their ad campaigns. I was told I made quite a case. I am delighted to have made a difference.”

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In my opinion: Bravo to Ruth Kovac and all those who complained to Toys R Us about the lack of English signs here and in other stores and businesses.

I have also received many complaints about the absence of English signs at the new McDonald’s restaurant on Cote Saint-Luc Rd. and our Mayor Anthony Housefather has personally been in contact with franchiser Pierre Brunet who ensures us that English signs are on order.

I have communicated with Target Canada about its lack of English signs in its new stores and it seems that this is beginning to be rectified as well.

I have always strived for equal rights for the English language in Quebec. As former Executive Director of Alliance Quebec I maintain that Quebecers must continue to advocate for language rights, from government and from retail and commercial enterprise. Mayor Housefather, a former AQ president, shares the same passion to promote language rights.

Store owners must be reminded that consumers will choose where to spend their dollars.  You can take your money where you can see your language displayed, as permitted under the horrid Quebec language laws.  You should be able to feel respected and appreciated when you shop and spend your hard earned cash.

Please continue to call and complain and let your local newspaper know about your findings as well.

 

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