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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Why I support the call for an Office of Anglophone Affairs

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The need for an Office of Anglophone Affairs to represent the interests of 800,000 English-speaking Quebecers is reasonable and quite evident.

First, having three cabinet members of the Quebec Liberal Party who come from the English-speaking community does not absolve the government from its ongoing obligation to its English-speaking population. Cabinet members come and go, so do governments, and cabinet members have many more responsibilities than uniquely watching out for linguistic issues of their constituents.

The last four decades have shown us that English-speakers promoted to cabinet are no guarantee that the rights afforded to the English-speaking community will be respected in each ministry and throughout the government.

No disrespect or lack of appreciation to our Anglo MNAs, past or present. Their competencies are far from limited to their mother tongue. In D’Arcy McGee riding, for example, David Birnbaum is off to a great start, is very interested in his constituency and his assistance is quite sincere, I have no doubt. Lawrence Bergman was a model MNA, of the highest calibre. Robert Libman (Equality Party) was elected specifically because of his position on language and Bill 101 and had wide community support because he was a thorn in the side of the government – a voice specifically for the English-speaking community.

An Office  of Anglophone Affairs would be such a representative body that is sorely lacking in Quebec City.

Editorial: An Office of Anglophone Affairs is needed now more than ever | Montreal Gazette.

Second, in an era when a judge of the Quebec Court rules that it is legitimate for the government to deny the rights and freedoms guaranteed to all Canadians and Quebecers, such as this week’s ruling to uphold Bill 101 with respect to marked predominance of French on signs, it is clear that the Quebec English-speaking community needs greater presence within government. An office, as suggested by Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser, would be a good start.

Smaller English wording on signs will convince more people to speak French? Nonsense. This is nothing more than the government, through its OQLF, bullying small business owners, who have enough trouble making a living in this province without being restricted from communicating with their non French-speaking customers.

It is harassment of Anglo seniors who have difficulty reading much too small English wording in the few cases where English is even provided.

It is an insult to English-speaking Quebecers that their language is diminished by such mean spirited laws that do absolutely nothing to promote the French language

It is pure politic and it is contrary to what Philippe Couillard told us in last year’s election campaign (‘English is not the enemy’).

Finally, Quebecers were screaming their support for freedom of expression, alongside people of good will all across the planet just two weeks ago. Where are they today? Where are our business leaders demanding their freedom of expression to run their businesses as they see fit in order to create wealth in our province? Where are those politicians who waved their signs upholding freedom of expression? Where are all those marchers?

We’re quick to cry for freedom for everyone all over the world. I fully support that. But what about right here in Quebec, in Canada, where we have something called a ‘Notwithstanding Clause’ that allows our own government to deny our rights? What about our own freedom of expression?

All other provinces have an office for their French-speaking communities. Anglo Quebecers need a voice too.

 

Read more:

Court quashes challenge to Quebec’s sign law (The Gazette)

Judge shoots down sign law challenge (CTV News)

Suburban | Feb. 4, 2015 | Click to enlarge

Suburban | Feb. 4, 2015 | Click to enlarge

Asking for linguistic respect works

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Suburban | Dedc. 31, 2014 | Click to enlarge

Suburban | Dedc. 31, 2014 | Click to enlarge

First disappointment with the new Liberal Government

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Philippe Couillard’s arrival as Premier of all Quebecers came as a relief to most English-speaking citizens and to a majority of voters. He seems like a level-headed, sensible, no-nonsense character to fill the highest office after a miserable 18 months in Quebec politics.

So it comes as more than surprising, actually disappointing, when the nascent government announced they would appeal last month’s Quebec Superior Court ruling that large retailers including Gap, Best Buy, Costco, Walmart and Old Navy are not obliged to add French generic words to their internationally recognized brand names.
Does any Quebecer require Costco Wholesale to add a French language generic term like “Les entrepots” to clarify what store they’re going into?  Will a unilingual French-speaker enter a Gap store thinking it’s a café if they don’t add “Le magasin de vetements” on their store signs? Does such petty symbolism do anything to protect the French language? Give me a break.
This is ridiculous and petty strategic policy on the part of the Liberal Government whose members haven’t had enough time to move into their offices yet, let alone take such a sensitive and ill-advised decision to seek appeal.
French-speaking Quebecers are well served by signage and employees in their language throughout Quebec.  They are not being disrespected.  They have more safeguards to protect their language than any other jurisdiction in the world.  They are not inconvenienced.  French letters and words on signage are twice as large or twice as numerous as compared to English. They are not marginalized.  Store staff speak to them in their own language.
Let’s be honest. English-speaking Quebecers are the ones who are disrespected, poorly served, inconvenienced and marginalized by oppressive government policy, discriminatory language laws and overzealous language police.
Dr. Couillard, you inspired tens of thousands of Quebecers during the election campaign by indicating that it was a great benefit to be bilingual, that the English-speaking Quebecers are not enemies, that we are all Quebecers. Please be true to your convictions and vision and make us all feel like respected, equal citizens.

Letters: How about protecting English in Quebec, as well?

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Letters, Montreal Gazette, April 22, 2014

Re: “Large retailers should add French to signage” (Editorial, April 19)

Are you kidding? Just when the Quebec Superior Court says leave things as they are, The Gazette seems to want to take a big step backward and instigate the language issues once again.

Who complained? The newly formed government has more important things to do now than revisit the signage issues. The OQLF’s time should be up! The millions saved could be spent so much better on health, education, infrastructure, etc.

Businesses need to flourish, and in the language of the consumer. The fact is, English has been so diminished that many retailers have zero English signage outside or inside their stores, fail to print circulars or sales receipts bilingually. Shame on all those corporations for disrespecting my bilingual dollar and for disrespecting me as a customer.

I must add, Toys R Us saw fit to give back respect to its customers by putting back English signage as permitted under the provisions of the Charter of the French Language. The French language is protected in Quebec; isn’t it about time that the English language be protected as well?

I am quite surprised and disappointed that The Gazette, Montreal’s only English-language daily newspaper, is not more vigorous in supporting the anglophone community!

Ruth Kovac

Councillor

City of Côte-Saint-Luc

Letter: The Gazette should be advocating the dissolution of the OQLF

 

Re: “Large retailers should add French to signage” (Editorial, April 19)

Shame on The Gazette, Montreal’s only English-language daily newspaper, for once again letting us, the anglophone community down and for not showing us the respect we truly deserve. How disrespectful can you be by mentioning that large retailers should add French to signage? Instead of applauding the Superior Court judgment rendered by the Honourable Mr. Justice Michel Yergeau for applying the provisions of the Charter of the French Language (Bill 101) and congratulating such retail chains as Best Buy, Costco Wholesale, Old Navy and others who stood up for what is right and not caving in to the useless, harassing and bullying tactics of the Office québécois de la langue française, you went out of your way to agree with what the OQLF was attempting to achieve. I guess I should not be surprised if your next moves were to encourage the OQLF to seek appeal of the Superior Court judgment and to lobby the Liberal government to amend the provisions of Bill 101.

As Montreal’s only English-language daily newspaper, it would have been a step in the right direction to not only come out and encourage all retailers in Quebec, especially those in the Montreal, Laval and South Shore areas where there are a good number of anglophones, to post signs in both French and English as allowed by Bill 101, but also to encourage the Quebec Liberal government to dissolve the OQLF and use the millions of dollars saved on such useful projects as health care, infrastructure and the economy. Remember, English has not been banned under Bill 101 and English is not a disease, it happens to be one of the two official languages of Canada.

Harold Staviss

Representative of the Office Québecois de la Langue Anglaise (OQLA)

Hampstead

Language cops went too far yet again

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The much maligned Tongue Troopers were dealt a severe blow by Quebec Superior Court yesterday. This is a real good week for Quebec’s Anglos and those who believe in tolerance, rights and freedom.

Years of PQ lies of the demise of the French language have been exposed as fear mongering nonsense. Although Marois’ final words stressed her worry about French in Quebec, Premier-Elect Couillard’s assertion that there isn’t a parent in Quebec that doesn’t want their child to be bilingual connected with voters.

Quebecers are waking up to the reality that English does not diminish the French language; that being bilingual offers opportunity and prosperity; that the Fleur de Lys flag belongs to us all; that religious signs are not a danger to society.

Voters have turned their backs on old, tired debate. They have rejected the fear mongering about identity. Many no longer believe political demagoguery that held them back from learning the predominant language in Canada and North America. The dark days forced upon us by the PQ have come to an end – hopefully for good.

If the real issues are the economy, health and education, the time has come for the government to find new job opportunities for the Language Cops who are a drain on our tax dollars, an international embarrassment and overzealous according to our courts.

Passover and Easter are wonderful opportunities to reflect on a brighter, more prosperous future here in Quebec. Live and let live.

 

Major retailers win against Quebec language watchdog in French sign battle.

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. 

 

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