Dieppe's proposal to require all commercial signs to be bilingual or in French only ran into some opposition on Monday night at a special meeting.

More than 100 people turned out for the special council meeting to discuss the reforms.

Many in attendance endorsed the concept of a bylaw that called for bilingual signs, but others chafed at the proposal of having French-only signs.

Ian Morris told the councillors that he feels French-only signs are discriminatory.

"It's more like you're sticking it to the English people, you know we can do this and we're going to pass a law here that's going to be French only," Morris said.

Situated next to Moncton, Dieppe is the fastest growing francophone city in the province with a population of roughly 18,000. The two cities have become a retail hub for the Maritimes and even with that recent growth, the majority of commercial signs in Dieppe are still in English only.

Dieppe Mayor Jean LeBlanc announced the proposed bylaw in November that would mandate all new commercial signs be either bilingual or in French only. Existing commercial signs would not be impacted by the bylaw.

When the bylaw was first proposed, LeBlanc said it was a natural progression from years of trying to convince businesses through education to switch from English-only signs.

Sign law met opposition

The new sign bylaw wasn't unanimously endorsed.

Andre Daigle, the city clerk, read out comments from people who wrote into the council but didn't show up for the hearing.

Daigle read from a letter from Bud Bird, a former Progressive Conservative MLA and MP, who called Dieppe's actions a set back.

"I'm surprised that it has not been strongly opposed by New Brunswickers everywhere," the letter said.

Several francophone residents from Dieppe also complained about the provision that would allow for French-only signs.

Michel Carrier, the province's official languages commissioner, also sent a letter saying the French-only signs or even English-only signs should be allowed for cultural or social institutions that cater only to those groups, such as daycares, churches, radio stations or newspapers.

Tony English, a Dieppe resident, told the council he agreed with keeping the provision for allowing signs to appear in only one language in specific circumstances.

"I absolutely support the bilingual part of this bylaw. I just hope it's modified perhaps not to remove the French-only [provision] but to make it more explanatory," English said.

English said he has travelled and worked in many countries where it's common to see more than one language on commercial signs.

He said a similar exception for English-only signs could be carved out that would apply to specific institutions.

Needs more time to pass

The proposed bylaw still must receive second and third readings before it is passed.

New Brunswick is officially bilingual, but the province's language law does not cover the private sector.

Any regulation over the language on signs in municipalities must come from the local government.

Municipalities are covered under the Official Languages Act, if they are designated as a city or have an official language minority that forms 20 per cent of the population.

That would require, for instance, local bylaws to be published in both official languages, but it would not extend to commercial signs.