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.

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 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.”


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

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.”

Urgences Santé promotes safety for all on French only website, Twitter

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For quite some time I have been pushing the issue of language on signs, websites and social media within the public safety departments and agencies in the Quebec government as well as in the City of Montreal.
Recently, I noticed that Urgences Santé (the provincially mandated Montreal and Laval ambulance service, where I worked as an ambulance technician for 18 years) launched a new website and has taken to Tweeting. This is terrific and to be commended.
A major problem that I’ve discovered though, is that their new site doesn’t have a word of English. Rien de tout. Quite incredible for a major emergency operation serving over a million people, many of whom are English-speaking.
Furthermore, Urgences Santé policy, similar to the Quebec Police Force (SQ), is to tweet in French only, unless they consider the situation to be an emergency. There is a fundamental problem with this misguided policy when they consider an emergency situation message as being appropriate to be conveyed in both languages however messages promoting public safety (and not an immediate emergency) cannot be in English. This is plain wrong. It is dangerous.
In responding to my request for them to tweet in English Urgences Santé cites Bill 101. However, the Charter of the French Language, Section 22, allows for use of another language when it comes to “health and public safety”.
Therefore, once again, this public body, whose mandate is indeed health and public safety, refuses to communicate in a language other than French, for the purpose of educating the public in matters of health and safety. This makes no sense. It is a dangerous practice and a narrow view of the language law.
Of course, the reach of the Charter into social and digital media is in and of itself questionable as to jurisdiction but we’ll leave that argument aside for now.
Emergency medical services and public safety matters are very important to me. So too is the notion of the Quebec Government showing respect to the English-speaking population.
In the last months I have communicated with the communication policy at Urgences Santé, Transports Quebec, Hydro Quebec and the Quebec Police Force. All these agencies hide behind a very narrow interpretation of the French language charter. This must change. I have called upon D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum to help in these matters and appreciate whatever assistance he will bring to these issues with the goal of attaining more effective safety-related communications for Quebecers of both language groups.

Pushing for bilingual highway safety signs


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?”


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.


We need a cure for the common pothole


I’m one of a growing number of motorists who had a close encounter of the third kind – the pothole kind that is.  My experience returning from up north last night (Sunday) on the Laurentian Autoroute struck us at dusk at 100 km/h in the middle lane.  I never saw what hit us, errr what we hit.  But it must have been one heck of a doozie!

Our rear tire exploded with a very loud kaboomthat would have had Marvin the Martian jumping in fear.  Finding yourself skidding down the runway, metal rim on slippery asphalt, is no amusing matter, particularly with three young kids sitting behind you.  My week-long offensive emergency driving course at the old St-Hubert airport in the early 80s, part of my Urgences Santé ambulance driver training, immediately kicked into action as I eased off the gas, signaled to the right, and applied the brakes lightly all the while maintaining full control of the wheel as I edged off the road to the breakdown lane.

Catastrophe avoided.

The Quebec Ministry of Transport’s “sécurité routiere” (vCOP of the highway) pickup truck arrived lights a blazing in short order as the highway video cameras observed my incident and sent out the alert.  This public employee was courteous and helpful and bilingual too.  While I happened to be well equipped with flares and reflective outerwear (what would you expect of a Public Safety Councillor and former ambulance tech?), basic safety tools when standing on a major highway, he would have been a godsend to the average clueless motorist, unaware of just how dangerous it is to be standing even on the side of an autoroute.

The patroller told me I was his 19th victim of the day!  Are you reading this Transports Quebec? 19 pothole incidents, that they recorded and just in the region north of Laval and the north shore.  Indeed, as we drove north on Friday night, road crews worked into the wee hours plugging holes on the Médéric-Martin bridge of Autoroute 15 connecting Laval to Boisbriand.  The number and size of these potholes was extraordinary.

All’s well that ends well.

While the family was safely transported off the highway and returned home thanks to my brother that was coincidentally not far behind us, the flatbed towing service “exclusively” contracted by the Quebec Police Force (SQ) scooped up our minivan and we were on our way to trusty Raffi’s Shell station in Cote Saint-Luc.

The tow truck driver told me how they were working overtime in trying to keep up with all the calls for pothole incidents on Autoroutes 13, 15, 440 and 640 in Laval and Boisbriand/Rosemere/Ste-Therese.  So busy were they that this driver was called back into service having already completed his shift.

Interesting enough, his loudest expletives were reserved not for the sorry state of the autoroutes or Decarie Expressway, nor for Van Horne, but for the Town of Hampstead’s negligence of Fleet Road. He swore up a storm as my minivan bounced on his flatbed as we circumvented the craters on Fleet.  We joked we might need a towing for the tow truck towing my car!  Hello Hampstead?  Are you there?

Needless to say, it was like floating on clouds as we crossed the final frontier into Cote Saint-Luc.  Our driver was suitably impressed with the state of the roads in our city and I took great pride in this expert’s opinion.

Now hear this, oh ye road wizards in all levels of government.  This is Quebec in 2011.  Our winters are fierce and our roads are neglected.  Your patches are mere band aids on gushing wounds.  If they can get it right in bordering jurisdictions (how I love to drive the silky smooth highways of Vermont and even Ontario) than so can we right here in Quebec.

Related Articles (from today’s papers!)


This opinion piece was published in the Montreal Gazette on March 23, 2011