February 4, 2015
The Suburban

The following is a guide to Bill 101’s language of signs provisions, as contained on the Quebec government site publicationsduquebec.gouv.qc.ca, which prints the law in detail.

We present this in light of last week’s Quebec Court decision upholding Quebec’s language of commercial signs law, and Hampstead lawyer Harold Staviss’s and Côte St. Luc councillor Ruth Kovac’s ongoing campaign for linguistic respect from companies and institutions serving areas with significant anglophone populations.

As we have discovered in the last several months of the campaign, there are some misperceptions about the language law, the most common being that only French is allowed on commercial signs. This is especially the case for company officials based outside Quebec.
In most cases, French must be “markedly predominant” on signs— have a greater visual impact than the other language.

There are many conditions involved.

• If French and another language are on the same sign or poster, “the space allotted to the text in French is at least twice as large as the space allotted to the text in the other language; the characters used in the text in French are at least twice as large as those used in the text in the other language; and the other characteristics of the sign or poster do not have the effect of reducing the visual impact of the text in French.”

• If French and another language are on separate posters of the same size, there have to be twice as many French signs as the other language, and the characters of the French text have to be “at least as large as those used in the text in the other language.”

• If French and another language are on separate posters of different sizes, “the signs and posters bearing the text in French [have to be] at least as numerous as those bearing the text in the other language; the signs or posters bearing the text in French are at least twice as large as those bearing the text in the other language; and the characters used in the text in French are at least twice as large as those used in the text in the other language.”

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This is the way the law applies in specific instances:

• Public signs and posters must be in French, and can include another language if French is markedly predominant. Exceptions are “news media that publish in a language other than French, or messages of a religious, political, ideological or humanitarian nature, if not for a profit motive.” The government can determine other types of exceptions.

• Inscriptions on products, including containers and wrappings, instructions and warranty information; as well as menus and wine lists, have to be in French. These items can also have translations, “but no inscription in another language may be given greater prominence than that in French.” Exceptions can be possible, as determined by the government.

• “Catalogues, brochures, folders, commercial directories and any similar publications must be drawn up in French.” As well, as in the above entry, “the French inscription may be accompanied with a translation or translations, but no inscription in another language may be given greater prominence than that in French.”

• Computer software, such as games and operating systems, must be available in French “unless no French version exists.

“Software can also be available in languages other than French, provided that the French version can be obtained on terms, except price where it reflects higher production or distribution costs, that are no less favourable and that has technical characteristics that are at least equivalent,” says the law. Exceptions can be possible, as determined by the government.

• In the case of toys and games, except for computer-related games,  those that “require the use of a non-French vocabulary for their operation are prohibited on the Quebec market, unless a French version of the toy or game is available on the Quebec market on no less favourable terms.” Exceptions can be possible, as determined by the government.

• The name of a business has to be in French. As well, “the name of an enterprise may be accompanied with a version in a language other than French provided that, when it is used, the French version of the name appears at least as prominently. In public signs and posters and commercial advertising, the use of a version of a name in a language other than French is permitted to the extent that the other language may be used in such signs and posters or in such advertising [as long as French is markedly predominant.]”

• “A non-profit organization devoted exclusively to the cultural development or to the defense of the peculiar interests of a particular ethnic group may adopt a name in the language of the group, provided that it adds a French version.”

• Health services and social services [which adopted their name before Aug. 26, 1977] “in a language other than French may continue to use such names, provided they add a French version.”