French-only warning signs dangerous: Letter to the editor

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Published in the Montreal Gazette, March 16, 2018
These French-only warning signs are actually dangerous for highway motorists not proficient in the French language. When approaching these massive electronic billboards and not immediately recognizing ominous words like “cahouteuse” or “aquaplanage” Without mastery of French you wouldn’t know whether to pull off the road or to call 911 for an urgent translation! I’ve made numerous demands for bilingual warnings and their inaction speaks volumes, in any language. They don’t care if you don’t understand.
Glenn J. Nashen
Cote Saint-Luc

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In reference to:

Opinion: Meaning of Quebec highway signs should be clear to all

A year after National Assembly petition, provincial government still has not responded to safety concerns.

Suburban exclusive: Quebec commits to more, better pictograms on highways

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Suburban exclusive: Quebec commits to more, better pictograms on highways

The Quebec Ministers of Transport and Culture and Communications have committed in writing to placing more and better safety-related pictograms on highways, Côte St. Luc councillor Ruth Kovac told The Suburban Monday.

The commitment by ministers Laurent Lessard and Luc Fortin respectively was the province’s response to a nearly 7,000-name National Assembly petition, created by Hampstead lawyer Harold Staviss and Kovac and sponsored by D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum, calling on Quebec to install bilingual traffic safety signs, as allowed by the province’s language law.

The news of the commitment came during a meeting Kovac had Friday with Birnbaum.

“It took 40 years to get the ministries to acknowledge that our road signs could be better,” Kovac said. “They said, ‘let’s do the best pictograms we can,’ which I have no issue with. First and foremost, it’s always about road safety.

“So if they’re going to make an effort to put up more and better pictograms, so be it. The [ministries] have acknowledged through David that if they don’t have existing pictograms, they will go to a senior engineer to work to make better pictograms, or create one.”

She added that pictograms could be attempted on electronic billboards that warn of safety issues happening at certain times.

Kovac said Quebec’s commitment fell short of allowing English on traffic safety signs if no suitable pictogram exists.

“We just didn’t cross the finish line,” she said. “But for 40 years we’ve been trying, and in the last six months and with David’s presentation, 7,000 people managed to get an affirmation that our road signs can be better. It’s a very positive step in a good direction. Does it fall a little short? Yes. But I know things work incrementally. I see, in a short period of time, reasonableness has prevailed, but they just didn’t put in writing they would go that next step [of adding English to the road signs]…. That’s still a question mark. I think we’re 99 percent there.”

Kovac thinks Quebec did not go the extra step of committing to add English if no pictograms exist, to avoid reopening the language debate, even though the law allows English on those signs.

The councillor added that she and Staviss will be taking photographs of signs they have complained about over time, and will point out whether or not they have been changed.

“Now we’ll be sign inspectors for free!” she joked. “I also have visitors coming from the U.S. in a couple of weeks, and I will ask them to take pictures or note any signs that they really don’t understand.

‘Did we make progress? Am I pleased? Yes.”

Birnbaum commended Staviss and Kovac for their efforts, the community for its response on the petition as well as The Suburban for focusing on the issue.

“Their petition hasn’t been a dead letter,” the MNA said. “They got some meaningful progress. The directive obviously acknowledges that Harold and Ruth got it right — the law is clear on what’s possible. And the directive that has been given notes that there are some situations where pictograms can be used and are not being used right now, and the directive suggests that be changed.”

Birnbaum also confirmed that the directive also says that when a pictogram doesn’t exist at the moment, regional authorities are asked to communicate with the operations department of the Transport ministry “to try and develop one.

“It’s a start,” the MNA said.

Bilingual traffic sign petition concludes with nearly 7,000 signatures

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The petition calling on the Quebec government to install bilingual traffic safety signs, as allowed by the province’s language law, ended March 2 with close to 7,000 signatures.

According to the petition page on the National Assembly website, 6,938 people signed online, and 46 people signed a paper petition, adding up to at least 6,984 names.

There was an apparent discrepancy as late on the night of March 2, the petition page listed 6,979 signatures. We were told by MNA David Birnbaum’s office that 41 were removed because of duplicates.

The petition, which will be presented in the National Assembly March 14, was created by Hampstead lawyer Harold Staviss and Côte St. Luc Councillor Ruth Kovac, and sponsored by Birnbaum. Kovac and Staviss will be in the National Assembly as the petition will be presented.

Staviss and Kovac were pleased with the support shown for bilingual traffic signs, including electronic signs which provide safety alerts such as smog warnings, accidents on highways and other advisories.

Staviss thanked Birnbaum and his bureau chief Elisabeth Prass for their support and guidance.

“One doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that safety should be more important than language,” Staviss added. “Unfortunately in the province of Quebec, the protection of the French language far outweighs everything, even safety.

“The Charter of the French Language clearly states that for reasons of health or public safety, the French inscription on traffic signs may be complemented or replaced by symbols or pictographs, and another language may be used where no symbol or pictograph exists,” he pointed out. “All we are asking for is what the Charter of the French language allows. Having signage dealing with health or public safety, in both French and English, is definitely not going to diminish or threaten the French language in any manner whatsoever. The time to be safer, courteous and more welcoming is now. Since Ontario has bilingual traffic signage, so should Quebec.”

Kovac said the majority Liberal government should “take a bold step and override the OQLF stranglehold on signage .

“Whereas various levels of government are also advertising in English only, inviting Americans to celebrate our different birthdays (Montreal’s and Canada’s), it makes sense that getting here be safer and clearer,” she added. “It no way diminishes the French language. It’s about time we recognize that we live in a global community. I am hopeful that MNAs from across Quebec will look at this through a 2017 lens and recognize the benefits of bilingual signage.”

Adding English would make us all safer

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Free Press, Letters, Feb. 14, 2017

As we all know, all traffic signs on Quebec highways are solely in French. When driving, do you know what «Respectez les feux de voies», «Risque d’aquaplanage», «Dégel», «Ralentir», «Allumez vos phares», «Voie cahoteuse» and «Incident voie droite bloquée» mean?

Are you aware that according to the Charter of the French Language, the French inscription on traffic signs may be complemented or replaced by symbols or pictographs, and another language may be used where no symbol or pictograph exists? Seeing that the aforementioned phrases have to deal with one’s safety, why are they not in English as well, as the charter clearly provides?

It absolutely makes no sense whatsoever that the protection of the French language is more important than one’s safety. Shouldn’t the safety of everyone, whether French speaking or English speaking, be of prime importance? That is precisely why Ruth Kovac and I presented a petition to the provincial legislature through our legislator David Birnbaum.

Time is running out. The deadline of March 2 to sign the petition is fast approaching.

If you have already signed the petition, we thank you. If you have not signed, please do so. However, in all instances, please make sure that you share this with your family, friends, acquaintances, neighbours and your neighbours’ friends. Share on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The petition can be found at: www.assnat.qc.ca/en/exprimez-votre-opinion/petition/Petition-6407/index.html.

Numbers do speak volumes and volumes can bring about change. The petition has nothing to do with language; it has everything to do with safety.

Ruth Kovac, Côte St. Luc

Harold Staviss, Hampstead

Opinion: Safety should trump language for Quebec highway signs | Montreal Gazette

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The following is an excellent opinion piece by my friends Ruth and Harold. The petition to allow for bilingual sfaety signs on Quebec highways is on the National Assembly website, which has over 5,000 signatures. The petition can be seen and signed at www.assnat.qc.ca/en/exprimez-votre-opinion/petition/Petition-6407/index.html

Opinion: Safety should trump language for Quebec highway signs | Montreal Gazette

CSL, Hampstead call for bilingual traffic safety signs

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The petition on the National Assembly website, which had 4,317 signatures as of Jan. 5, was initiated by Hampstead lawyer Harold Staviss and Côte St. Luc councillor Ruth Kovac, and sponsored by D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum. The petition can be seen at www.assnat.qc.ca/en/exprimez-votre-opinion/petition/Petition-6407/index.html. The deadline to sign is March 2.

Kovac, who moved Côte St. Luc’s resolution, has been working with Staviss to, within the language law, lobby companies and government agencies to increase bilingualism on signage and in communications with consumers.

Councillor Glenn Nashen, who himself has been lobbying for increased bilingualism on government websites, seconded Côte St. Luc’s resolution.

The two municipal resolutions point out the facts of the petition, that “the second paragraph of section 22 of the Charter states that the French language may be accompanied by another language when indicated by reason of health or public safety and where no symbol or pictograph exists,” and that the province has not, for the most part, installed such signs.

The two resolutions ask the Quebec Transport and Culture and Communications ministries to “take the necessary steps in order that all traffic signs and electronic alerts/messages dealing with public safety or health be in both French and English, when no symbol or pictograph exists.”

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Read more:

Quebec not budging on English for public safety signs

Pushing for bilingual highway safety signs

Letter to the Editor, The Gazette, English safety signage allowed on Quebec highways

Language control sends a dangerous message

Council pushes for English signage on Quebec roads

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Free Press | Jan. 17, 2017 | Click to enlarge

Proud to advocate for English-speaking community

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I was very proud to be included for special mention in a recent Suburban Newspaper editorial on community action and community press. The piece highlighted the outstanding contributions of Hampstead lawyer Harold Staviss and Cote Saint-Luc city councillor Ruth Kovac in their year-long activism together with veteran community reporter Joel Goldenberg in pointing out those business, government agencies and other services that refuse to carry the English language on their signs, publicity and advertising. They have actively pursued corporate executives and politicians to remind them publicly that our language regulations do not demand the elimination of English.
For my part I have communicated with the Montreal Fire Department, provincial police, transport, security, Hydro Quebec, Urgences Santé and other agencies that have simply neglected to offer any, or enough, English information on their websites and in social media. There have been some successes, as noted in the Suburban editorial, such as the translating of Montreal Fire Department website and some tweeting in English.
The refusal of the transport department to allow English on their massive digital information boards over Quebec’s highways is particularly baffling and nonsensical.
The rejection by these agencies to tweet and post to social media in English to benefit the million English-speaking Quebecers and tourists is deplorable.
As the Suburban, Staviss and Kovac have repeated over the last year, “It’s a matter of respect”.
I am proud to have been included among those active in, and dedicated to the community. I intend to continue to advocate for English-speaking Quebecers, and all Quebecers, for as long as it takes!

Language control sends a dangerous message

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Traffic control-centre brought up to speed, Gazette, September 2, 2015

Letter to the editor, Montreal Gazette

While Transport Quebec is investing $11 million in upgrading technology to ensure safety on the highways, one million English-speaking Quebecers and many more visitors should be very concerned that absolutely no attention is being given to inform highway users of safety concerns in their own language.

The fact that the Quebec Transport Department has installed massive electronic safety panels in the first place speaks to the need to inform motorists of serious issues ahead. The very nature of these messages is to alert, to warn, to safeguard motorists and passengers.

That Quebec would expressly restrict such messages to French only speaks volumes of its intolerance of the English language and its disregard of English-speaking people, be they Quebecers or from elsewhere. This is totally unacceptable especially since Bill 101 allows for the use of English when it comes to public safety.

Traffic isn’t the only thing Quebec is controlling in this high-tech centre. Language is being tightly controlled as well and this sends a dangerous message.

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Tenacity and perseverance pays off in fight for respect

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When it comes to staying power you’ve got to give credit to Cote Saint-Luc Councillor Ruth Kovac and Hampstead lawyer Harold Staviss. These two, a veritable dynamic duo, don’t take “non” for an answer. Their fight, seeking respect, and justice, for Quebec’s embattled English-speaking community, is praiseworthy.

As noted in yesterday’s edition of La Presse as well as on CTV News the two advocates have had impressive successes in standing up for rights and respect to some of the biggest retailers and businesses in this country.

While they push forward in the business world, I continue to seek visibility of English among the Quebec government’s departments such as the Quebec Police Force, Hydro Quebec, Transport Quebec and Urgences santé, as well as the City of Montreal’s administration, as permitted under the repressive language laws.

As the former executive Director of Alliance Quebec, the once mighty English language rights lobby, I am greatly appreciative of those that have continued to battle for what is right, fair and just. Kovac and Staviss have done just that along with the support of the Suburban Newspaper’s Joel Goldenberg and Beryl Wajsman. I thank them and encourage them to persevere.

Justice will prevail in the end. Unfortunately, in Quebec, it takes a long, long, long time.

A guide to Quebec’s signs language law

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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.”

•••

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.”

Urgences Santé website to be bilingual

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Jan. 21, 2015 | Suburban News | Click to enlarge

Jan. 21, 2015 | Suburban News | Click to enlarge

Thank you to D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum for his interest in advancing this dossier. Each time I contact him concerning local and language issues he and his skilled staff are quick to respond and to make representation to the relevant ministers. In this particular case, David’s assistance was significant in getting a quick and positive response from Urgences Santé.

Tweet in English, too: Nashen to Montreal fire department

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The Suburban, Joel Goldenberg, January 14th, 2015

Côte St. Luc councillor Glenn Nashen is continuing his efforts to have government institutions dealing with safety and security provide content to the population in English as well as French.

Last year, Nashen called attention to the fact that the Montreal fire department’s website was in French only. Recently, much English content was added to the site.

Nashen and lawyer Harold Staviss have also been calling for English as well as French on safety messages on Quebec highways.

This past Friday, the Montreal fire department posted an advisory, in French only, cautioning the population to be careful if they are in the presence of sources of carbon monoxide “since this gas can be fatal.”

Nashen responded, in French, on the Twitter site that Article 22 of the Charter of the French Language allows for the use of another language in matters regarding health and public security.
“Please also tweet in English,” Nashen wrote.

A couple of hours later, the fire department responded with a tweet of the same safety message regarding carbon monoxide, in English.

Nashen copied his original request to The Suburban, as well as Staviss and Côte St. Luc councillor Ruth Kovac, who have been asking for linguistic respect from companies serving significant anglophone populations.

Staviss was pleased with Nashen’s request for English.

Kovac was happy to see the English tweet from the fire department. “Small victories all around,” she said. “A great way to start 2015.”

We checked out the fire department’s Twitter postings for the last several days. Most were in French only, except for some very general messages. “Your fire department wishes you a marvellous New Year,” says a Jan. 1 posting. “We’ll be keeping an eye on your safety at all times. Be aware.”
“The Service de sécurité incendie de Montréal encourages you to keep safety in mind during your festivities,” says a Dec. 22 posting.

The few other English postings in recent weeks highlight positive activities, some of  which emanate from English media coverage. There was also a Dec. 18 posting linking to Christmas tree decoration safety tips in English.

In contrast, there were more frequent English Twitter postings by the Montreal police department regarding safety and security, including one Friday alerting the population to the closing of Papineau south at Ontario East because of a fire, and advising motorists to access the Jacques Cartier Bridge via Ste. Catherine or René Lévesque.

Other postings included an alert that traffic was reopened downtown after a gas leak (Jan. 4), an advisory of inoperative traffic lights at Lacordaire and the Metropolitan (Dec. 22) and updates on a Nov. 29 downtown demonstration. However, some postings were in French only.

We also checked numerous Transports Quebec Twitter highway traffic alerts, all of which were in French. Some were short enough to be easily understood, such as references to accidents, but there were also less common French terms like “capotage.”

Pushing for bilingual highway safety signs

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The Suburban, Jan. 7, 2015

Harold Staviss is keeping up the fight to have bilingual highway safety signage in Quebec, rejecting the transport department’s argument that the signs have nothing to do with health or public security and thus do not require English under the law.
“Don’t such words or phrases as ‘cahouteuse’ (bumpy road), ‘degel’ (thawing), ‘ralenti’ (slow down), ‘securité’, ‘incident voie droite bloquée’ (right lane blocked because of incident), the requirement of installing winter tires prior to Dec. 15  and/or important alerts for construction, which appear on the electronic signage in French only, have to deal with public safety?” Staviss wrote to the department. “These words/phrases on the electronic signage from time to time have everything to do with public safety messages and should most definitely be in both the French and English languages, the whole as provided for under the relevant provisions of the Charter of the French Language… In any event, if there appears to be some doubt, wouldn’t it make more sense and be more logical to err on the side of safety and have them in both of the aforementioned languages?”

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Quebec not budging on English for public safety signs

In my opinion: Thank you Harold for continuing to press the transport department on their misguided application of the overly restrictive language laws.

The large panels placed strategically by Transport Quebec are there for one reason only: To provide safety alerts to motorists. For them to argue that these messages do not constitute public safety information is completely dishonest and downright dangerous.

D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum must also take up the cause and push for bilingual communications in public safety from various Quebec departments as permitted under the law.

 

Asking for linguistic respect works

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Suburban | Dedc. 31, 2014 | Click to enlarge

Suburban | Dedc. 31, 2014 | Click to enlarge

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