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.”

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OQLF visits Côte St. Luc

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The Suburban, By Joel Goldenberg, May 1st, 2013

An Office Québécois de la Langue Française inspector took her camera to Côte St. Luc last Thursday, probing Pharmaprix, IGA and the Cordonnerie Cavendish shoe repair store in Quartier Cavendish (Cavendish Mall) for potential language law offences.

According to interviews and discussions with each of the stores probed, a female inspector came in, took pictures and said each establishment would receive a letter in a month and a half with the results of the OQLF’s investigation if the law was seen to be violated.

The visit outraged many at the mall, including Gino Scandale, owner of Ralphs Mens Wear and president of the mall’s merchants association.

“This was very unexpected, especially to come into a [majority] anglophone community and start like that,” Scandale told The Suburban. “It’s sort of like coming into the West End, agitating people…. They saw English lettering; the law says French has to be three times bigger than the English. That’s the type of crap going on right now.

“It’s just ludicrous,” he added. “We’ve got to, at some point, start speaking out. From what I see now, we’re between the devil and the deep blue sea. Anyone who really speaks out, they get the tax department and [other repercussions]. That’s why, I feel, a lot of people are not speaking out.”

Pharmaprix manager Ian MacDonald said the inspector was checking if the signage in the store complied with the language law. No warnings were given on Thursday, MacDonald said.

“We’re in Côte St. Luc, I think they’re in the wrong neighbourhood,” MacDonald said. “They want to push an issue, and that’s it. It’s ridiculous, but what are you going to do? They want to pass Bill 14.”

IGA management had no comment.

Hovig Ourichian of Cordonnerie Cavendish confirmed that the OQLF visited the store.

“The inspector came to check and took some pictures from the outside, and told me they were checking the signage of whatever a customer sees from the outside in,” Ourichian told The Suburban. “She took some pictures, said she would send it to an inspector and if I was at fault, they would send me a letter.

“They seem to not have anything better to do,” he added. “Hospitals need money, they’re cutting everywhere and meanwhile these guys are going around taking pictures and wasting our money.”

Many stores in the mall avoid any language problems by having very few signs -one store primarily has just the store name and sales numbers, such as an item being 20 percent off, but very little wording. Some are also careful to greet customers with a “bonjour.”

Opinion: Our opposition to Bill 14 – a question of principle

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Quebec Liberal leader Philippe Couillard and Liberal critic on language issues Marc Tanguay offer a refreshing and confident position on the language question. Their opposition to the “unnecessarily coercive and judicialized approach, and inflammatory measures,” of Bill 14 stand in stark contrast to that of the PQ government, let alone the CAQ that coward away from killing the bill outright.

Couillard and Tanguay speak of the benefits of bilingualism and multilingualism and of the great advantage that the million strong English-speaking  Quebecers – “they are not foreigners” – have in speaking at least two languages fluently.

They finally state what is plain to many but not enough in Quebec, that Francophones are placing themselves at a disadvantage by hindering themselves and their children off from greater opportunity.

I am far from a Liberal flag bearer.  Bill 22, Bill 178, these pieces of language restrictive legislation, along with hiring of more language cops came in under liberal governments.  However, the principles espoused in this opinion piece deserve praise and should be echoed by more and more Francophone leaders across Quebec.

Couillard and Tanguay close with, “Let’s choose to focus on our strengths and, above all, on our desire to live and prosper together.   Sounds good to me.

Opinion: Our opposition to Bill 14 – a question of principle (Montreal Gazette)

Cotler breaks federal MP silence on repressive language legislation

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The following article appeared in The Metropolitain.

Our Linguistic Duality Must be a Legal Reality

By Hon. Irwin Cotler on April 22, 2013

In the words of René Lévesque, “A nation is judged by how it treats its minorities.” Regrettably, linguistic minorities in Canada have often had to fight for just treatment, and that struggle continues against the backdrop of several troubling recent developments that threaten the rights of minority language communities throughout the country. Simply put, it is critical to ensure that minority language communities feel welcome and are able to thrive, and this is as true for Anglophones in Quebec as it is true for French-speakers elsewhere in Canada.

Regrettably, Quebec Anglophones have recently come under increased pressure in the form of Bill 14, which would amend the French Language Charter with the goal of enhancing protection for French. All Quebecers – indeed, all Canadians – have an interest in ensuring the continued vibrancy of the French language and culture in our province, but this can and must be accomplished while respecting the rights of the English-speaking minority.

To that end, Bill 14 is problematic in several respects. It would:

• Allow the provincial government to strip municipalities or boroughs of bilingual status against their will if the population of mother-tongue Anglophones drops below 50%.

• Empower OQLF inspectors to seize property without a warrant, and to refer infractions for prosecution without giving alleged offenders an opportunity to comply.

• Prohibit English CÉGEPs from considering Francophone applicants – regardless of merit – until all Anglophone applicants have been accepted.

• Remove an exemption allowing members of the armed forces to send their children to English schools.

• Modify the Charter of the French Language by replacing “ethnic minorities” – a defined term in international law – with “cultural communities,” a concept lacking legal clarity.

• Make French the “normal and everyday language” in which government agencies are addressed, and require citizens applying for government assistance to apply in French or pay for translation. As the Quebec Bar Association recently noted, this could limit access to justice in English, particularly for low-income Anglophones and Allophones seeking legal aid.

Moreover, as the Quebec Bar Association also noted in its analysis of the legislation, Bill 14 could allow public servants to refuse to acknowledge anything said to them in English and require that files be translated in French at the expense of the applicant. Further, it places new and unnecessary burdens on employers with multilingual staffs, while translation inconsistencies in the bill may give rise to unnecessary litigation while burdening the delivery of social services.

Above all, however, Bill 14 would amend the preamble of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms to say that “rights and freedoms must be exercised in keeping with … the values of Quebec society, including … the importance of its common language and the right to live and work in French.” In so doing, Bill 14 renders Quebec’s Charter a document designed to entrench the supremacy of the majority, whereas a primary purpose of constitutions is to establish individual and minority rights that cannot be suppressed by simple majority rule.

As the Supreme Court stated in the reference on Quebec’s secession, “there are occasions when the majority will be tempted to ignore fundamental rights in order to accomplish collective goals more easily or effectively. Constitutional entrenchment ensures that those rights will be given due regard and protection.” Accordingly, while the Francophone majority may certainly seek to ensure the sustained vitality of its language and culture, the rights of the Anglophone minority must be protected even if their protection complicates the majority’s goal.

In constitutional democracies such as ours, it is the constitution that protects minority rights from what Alexis de Tocqueville called “the tyranny of the majority.” Indeed, without constitutional safeguards, a majority-elected legislature would be legally empowered to oppress minority groups. Therefore, for Quebec’s Charter to subordinate all other rights to the importance of the majority’s language would be to undermine the very raison-d’être of a human rights charter.

Inasmuch as the language minister has expressed her hope that the amendments to the preamble will affect Supreme Court decisions about Quebec’s language laws, Bill 14 seeks manifestly to reduce constitutional protections for linguistic minorities. Yet such protections must be robust, both for Anglophones in Quebec and Francophones elsewhere in Canada.

Last October, at a meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Union held in Quebec City, Canada signed an international agreement to “uphold cultural, linguistic, ethnic, racial, political and religious diversity as a global value which should be celebrated, respected, encouraged and protected within and among all societies and civilizations.” It is time for government decisions – at both federal and provincial levels – to adhere to this noble ideal.

Irwin Cotler is the Member of Parliament for Mount Royal and the former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. He is an Emeritus Professor of Law at McGill University. 

 

Merchant resists OQLF inspector: Strudelgate?

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From CJAD800:

The Pointe Claire merchant who famously started selling “Pasta Salad Marois” in the days following “Pastagate” is again rebelling.

An OQLF inspector visited Swiss Vienna Pastry and Delicatessen and owner Harry Schick asked the man to leave.

The inspector pointed to several violations to Quebec’s language law, Bill 101, and asked to take pictures. Schick refused. The inspector left and, according to Schick, said that he will be back.

“French and English are the same size,” on signs in his store, a defiant Schick told CJAD 800’s Rick Moffat. “To me, Anglophones and Francophones have equal rights in my store.

“Pasta Marois” has become one of the shop’s top sellers, “and we’ve just added this week ‘le Mac and Cheese!'”

Schick seems to be daring the government to take extreme action.

“I will not pay the fine. What will they do? Put me in jail? Put 35 employees out of business by closing me down? I doubt it. Somebody is going to have to stop them.”

Several merchants in the same mall on St. Jean blvd. tell CJAD 800 that they have been visited by the OQLF in recent days.

Schick is positioning himself as an Anglo martyr.

“[The government] is slowly but surely driving out Anglos. My daughter has already left. She will never come back to this province.”

Listen to Rick Moffat’s full interview with Harry Schick.

How Pastagate taps into larger, polarizing language issues in Quebec

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How Pastagate taps into larger, polarizing language issues in Quebec, Globe and Mail, March 1, 2013

INGRID PERITZ

MONTREAL — The Globe and Mail

Montreal chef David McMillan has gained international notice for his skills in the kitchen. But when he fielded a call from Al Jazeera this week, it wasn’t to talk about his famous lobster spaghetti.

 

The news network wanted to discuss his run-ins with Quebec’s language inspectors. Word had spread that his restaurant, Joe Beef, was nailed for various infractions – including an old decorative sign reading, “Exit,” and another saying, “Cherries.” For someone who would rather be shucking oysters than debating Quebec’s language rules, it was a discouraging turn.

“I love Quebec with all my heart. Our French culture and language are a treasure in North America,” Mr. McMillan says. “But this just makes me sad. All I keep wondering is, ‘Whatever happened to common sense?’ ”

 

His sentiments were echoed across Quebec this week in the wake of what has come to be dubbed Pastagate – a crackdown by Quebec language inspectors targeting restaurateurs for non-French words such as “pasta” and “steak.”

 

It brought embarrassing world attention to the Office québécois de la langue française, one of the agency’s worst public-relations disasters since 60 Minutes’ Morley Safer travelled to Montreal to follow a Quebec “language cop” in 1998 and declared: “The Marx Brothers would have been at home here.”

 

The OQLF withdrew some of their complaints and the government promised a review of the inspections process in the face of widespread ridicule (from anglophones and francophones alike). But the controversy taps into larger, polarizing, language issues in Quebec, which have been pushed to the fore by the election of the Parti Québécois.

 

Parliamentary hearings begin this month into Bill 14, legislation tabled in December by the minority PQ government of Pauline Marois that aims to toughen Quebec’s Charter of the French Language, known as Bill 101. Though the proposed provisions are less draconian than the jittery anglophone community had feared – the PQ repeatedly played the language card during last summer’s election campaign – they have sparked opposition among everyone from mayors to military families, and concerns from Canada’s Official Languages Commissioner, Graham Fraser.

 

Along with other restrictions, Bill 14 would extend French-language requirements to smaller businesses than before, and would strip bilingual municipalities of their status if the percentage of citizens who use English as their mother tongue were to drop below 50 per cent.

 

“I’m uncomfortable with using percentages as a way to define the vitality of a minority community,” says Mr. Fraser, a former journalist whose 1984 book on the PQ is still regarded as an essential reference. Even if a town’s English community grows, he notes, it would lose ground if the French community outpaces it.

 

“You’re allowing the numbers of the majority to define what the services and rights are of the minority,” he says. “The nature of minority rights … is not allowing a minority to be at the mercy of the majority.”

 

Mr. Fraser, who has met members of the Marois cabinet to share his views, says Quebec has legitimate reason to protect its language – a widely shared view in the province – as English becomes the de facto global language of business and science.

 

“One has to recognize that, yes, there are pressures and challenges for French,” he says. “But they don’t come from the English minority in Quebec.”

 

Mr. Fraser’s concerns are shared by many of the 83 mayors across Quebec who fear losing their towns’ bilingual status. For a municipality such as Côte Saint-Luc, a bedroom community of Montreal, that status means everything from sending bilingual tax bills to posting the word “Road” in addition to “Chemin” on street signs.

 

“Our city is functioning perfectly well,” says Côte Saint-Luc Mayor Anthony Housefather, who is spearheading a protest against Bill 14, and questions who is hurt by the bilingual status of his and other municipalities. “What benefit is there for the government to do this?”

 

Some worries over the new legislation are also crossing Quebec’s linguistic divide. Francophone military families posted in the province currently get an exemption from Bill 101 allowing them to send their children to English school. Under Bill 14, they would lose that right.

 

Diane Adams, whose husband, Maxime Beaulieu, is based at CFB Valcartier in Quebec City, says she never knows if her family will get transferred to a base outside Quebec, where English will be required. Her sons, aged 9 and 11, have always attended the English-language Valcartier Elementary School.

 

“There’s not much stability in the military, so we look for stability. And this new law would wreck it,” says the Quebec-born Ms. Adams, whose husband has done a tour in Afghanistan. “The military is like a big family, and we’re feeling anxiety.”

 

The changes also risk dealing a blow to schools that welcome the military families; though the change would affect only a total of 682 children, in some cases, these children make up as much as two-thirds of the pupils at their English schools.

 

“Removing students from those small schools – in rural Quebec, near military bases – would be devastating,” Mr. Fraser says. “It’s going to result in schools being closed.”

 

The spike in language anxieties stand in stark contrast to the reality on the ground in places such as Montreal, where people go convivially about their day-to-day lives, switching between French and English. It’s what Mr. McMillan sees every day at his Notre Dame Street restaurant, where the staff speaks French but serves customers in whatever language they choose.

 

“The one thing we have here in Montreal is good food and drink,” he says. But he is worried about the Office québécois de la langue française’s 6-per-cent budget boost this year.

 

“I wish they’d take the money to educate their dumb inspectors.

 

“Better still, I wish they would just leave us alone.”

 

 

Charles Adler to Pauline Marois: Tear down the OQLF

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Talk show host and political commentator Charles Adler goes on a rant against Pastagate and the government of Quebec.

How do these embarrassing and laughable actions by the OQLF help protect the French language in any way?  They don’t.  The OQLF has a budget of over $20 million to hire language cops, government inspectors to harass small business owners and everyday CANADIAN citizens residing in Quebec.  They have succeeded in bringing shame and laughter upon Quebec in the name of linguistic purity.  How very sad.

Watch the episode called Pasta Goes Global.

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