Montreal

New French-language rules for outdoor signage coming to Quebec

Any new signage going up after Nov. 24 will have to adhere to the new regulations. Existing signs and trade-marked businesses such as Costco and BestBuy will have three years to add French descriptors to their outdoor signs.

Rules coming this month require businesses to add French without altering trademarked 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)

Changes to Quebec's sign laws that were announced in May will go into effect Nov. 24, the provincial government announced Wednesday.

The rules will require Quebec businesses to add French to their outdoor signage without altering registered trademark names.

Existing signs and trade-marked businesses such as Costco and BestBuy will have three years to add French descriptors to their outdoor signage. 

Any new signage going up after Nov. 24 will have to adhere to the new regulations.

'Sufficient French presence'

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.

To conform to the new rules, Quebec businesses with a trademark name that is not in French will be required to add a French word, description or slogan to their outdoor signage. (Quebec government)

The province says the changes 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.

The goal is to have a "sufficient French presence" at every business in Quebec, whether it is a restaurant, factory, shop or hotel.

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

Little more than 'French flavour,' rights group says

The new rules left a francophone rights advocacy group, the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society, unimpressed.

In a news release, the society denounced the changes as little more than a sprinkling of "French flavour" to otherwise English signs.

"These new measures do not respond to the objective of making French the public and common language in Quebec," said Maxime Laporte, the group's president.

When the measures were introduced in May, the regional president at Walmart, Xavier Piesvaux, welcomed the regulation, saying it "gives our companies the flexibility to communicate in French while keeping the integrity of our brand."

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.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.