By Joel Goldenberg
The Suburban, November 5th, 2014
This is the latest in a series of articles looking at stores and companies and their language policies in areas with majority and significant anglophone populations, as documented by Hampstead’s Harold Staviss and Côte St. Luc’s Ruth Kovac.
Quebec will not budge on the inclusion of English on road signs dealing with public safety, despite the allowance of its inclusion according to the province’s language laws, an e-mail from Quebec’s transport department indicates.
Staviss recently wrote to the complaints department of Transport Quebec about the lack of English on safety signs, pointing out the importance of those signs for all Quebecers.
Staviss also cited Article 22 in the Charter of the French Language, which states that “the civil administration shall use only French in signs and posters, except where reasons of health or public safety require the use of another language as well.”
“I’m wondering why Transport Quebec isn’t taking this rule into account so that all public safety displays are in French and English,” Staviss wrote.
Days later, Staviss received a reply from Catherine Boutin of the transport ministry, which further cited article 22 as stating that “in the case of traffic signs, the French inscription may be complemented or replaced by symbols or pictographs, and another language may be used where no symbol or pictograph exists that satisfies the requirements of health or public safety.”
“As we are aware of the linguistic diversity of those who use our roads, the department primarily uses symbols and pictograms, according to Quebec standards but also taking into account international norms,” Boutin wrote. “The road signs are thus understandable to everyone.
“The department also uses messages on electronic panels to disseminate real-time messages to help drivers decide on their routes and for general road safety recommendations,” her e-mail added. “These messages do not apply to public health or safety and are therefore only in French.”
Boutin also wrote that the ministry uses fixed signs, not the electronic type, during road safety awareness campaigns.
“Because of the nature of the messages conveyed, French signage is recommended. The ministry also broadcasts English messages in the media, if the language of the broadcaster is not French, ensuring that all road users are adequately informed.”
Kovac recommended that a copy of the transport ministry response be sent to the ministers of transport and public safety.
Staviss said a comment from Côte St. Luc Councillor Glenn Nashen, who has also been calling for English on highway safety signs, reflects his own view as well.
Nashen said in an e–mail to Staviss that he is “completely” dissatisfied with the answer from the ministry.
“Looking just at the electronic signage they’ve installed around the province, they say that this information is not linked to public safety or health and therefore is in French only,” Nashen wrote. “Nonsense. The best example is that signs say ‘cahouteuse’ (rough road) from time to time as a warning or message indicating danger. I would challenge the ministry to poll how many English-speakers would know what this word even means. It is clearly a message of public safety.
“Also, there are warnings concerning periods of ‘degel” or thaw, messages for staying alert and awake, for DUI and the like. These are all public safety messages and it is completely unacceptable for the ministry not to present these messages in English as well as French. Additionally, these panels flash information about accidents up ahead, about important alerts for construction on roads and bridges. It is illogical and nonsensical not to post these messages in both languages.”
Nashen recommended that Staviss send a copy of the ministry’s e-mail response to D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum.
Staviss and Kovac’s e-mail address, email@example.com — is “for anyone who is interested in getting involved to encourage merchants, retailers and the like to post English signage or more English signage.”