Quebec wants to force businesses to add French to outdoor signage

The Quebec government has proposed a modification to regulations that would require Quebec businesses to add French to their outdoor signage, without altering registered trademark names.

Province wants French text accompanying English trademark names

Several major retailers took the Quebec government to court over the provincial language watchdog's insistence they modify their commercial brand names to include some French. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

The Quebec government has proposed a modification to the province's sign rules that would require Quebec businesses to add French to their outdoor signage, without altering registered trademark names. 

Hélène David, acting minister responsible for the protection and promotion of the French Language, made the announcement Tuesday afternoon.

"Thanks to this change, every person, whether driving on a highway, on a sidewalk, in an industrial area or in a commercial parking lot, will know they are in Quebec, because they will see French on the signs," she told a news conference in Montreal.

Under the new rules, businesses with a trademark name that is not in French would be required to add a French word, description or slogan to their outdoor signage.

The modification does not apply to trademarks which are names, for example McDonald's or Tim Hortons

'Sufficient French presence'

The province says the changes would also require that the added French words be well lit at night. The French words do not have to be bigger than the non-French trademark name. 

To conform to the new rules, Quebec businesses with a trademark name that is not in French would be required to add a French word, description or slogan to outdoor signage. (Quebec government)
The goal is to have a "sufficient French presence" at every business in Quebec, whether it is a restaurant, factory, shop or hotel. 

The government is looking for public feedback on the new proposed regulations for the next 45 days. 

Following that period, any necessary adjustments will be made and cabinet will make its decision about the modification. 

Walmart happy, PQ less so

The regional president at Walmart, Xavier Piesvaux, said the regulation "gives our companies the flexibility to communicate in French while keeping the integrity of our brand," he said.

But nationalist political parties and organizations like Mouvement Québec français say the proposed changes are not enough. 

"Too little, too late," said Maka Kotto, the Parti Québécois critic on language.

"Without a change to Law 101, contesting the regulation will always be possible, and its application will depend on the will of companies," he said.

Quebec Community Groups Network director Sylvia Martin-Laforge says her members are, for the most part, unconcerned with the announcement.

The English-language community groups that comprise the network are more worried about signs in hospitals and everyday personal activity in this province, Martin-Laforge said.

Changes follow legal battle

In 2014, major retailers such as Walmart, Costco and Best Buy won a court battle with the province over their signage, with the Quebec Superior Court ruling businesses that have storefront signs with their trademark name in a language other than French do not contravene the Charter of the French Language.

The Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) wanted the companies to change their signs to either give themselves a generic French name or add a slogan or explanation that reflects what they are selling.

But the judge hearing the case ruled in favour of the major retailers — a list including Best Buy, Costco, Gap, Old Navy, Guess, Wal-Mart, Toys "R" Us and Curves.

The decision was later upheld by the Quebec Court of Appeal. 

Karl Filion, press secretary for Quebec Language Minister Luc Fortin, says he is confident the revisions announced Tuesday would be legal.

With files from Radio-Canada

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