English coming to Westmount parking signs

Following years of lobbying, as well as a change in interpretation of language laws on signage, Westmount is considering adding English to their unilingual French parking signs.

New interpretation of language laws paves way to English and French parking signage

All of Westmount's nearly 2,500 parking signs are in French, including this one near Temple Emanu-El-Beth-Sholom. (Shaun Malley/CBC)

The City of Westmount has opened the door to adding English to parking signs, following more than 20 years of back-and-forth battles with Quebec's language watchdog.

Mayor Peter Trent tabled a roadmap for the changes at the last Westmount city council meeting.

Entitled "Bilingual Parking Signs in Westmount," the document outlines the current status of parking signage in Westmount, past run-ins with the watchdog, as well as various ways to make the city's signage bilingual.

The Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF), the province's language watchdog, has changed its tune about the law governing the language of traffic and parking signs. The OQLF now allows both English and French to appear on parking signs in cities with official bilingual status.

Trent is not exactly jumping for joy, however.

The city has three options for adding English to signs and Mayor Peter Trent says the one on the right is the most viable option. (Courtesy of the City of Westmount)

"If there should be any party irritated by the [language watchdog's] flip- flop, it is the City of Westmount," Trent wrote in the document.

"[Westmount] spent $30,000 to conform to the law in the 1990s and now is being told that it was not necessary."

Trent said Westmount had long made peace with the OQLF, making placing French only on parking signs in order to guarantee English-language services for residents.

'Far from a high priority'

All of the city's 2,500 parking signs are in French, aside from a few holdovers that went unnoticed by the OQLF in the 1990s.

English-language rights activist Harold Staviss, a lawyer from Hampstead, says he flagged the mayor about the watchdog's new stance paving the way for the signs to be changed.

Though vindicated, he is not satisfied with Westmount's plans.

"I don't feel it's changed because there's really no commitment," Staviss told CBC News. "The only commitment was when the signs have to be changed."

"That's like saying when I win the lottery I will take you out for supper."

Harold Staviss, a lawyer and English language rights activist, wants Westmount to move faster to change the signs. (Shaun Malley/CBC)

Staviss said he'll keep pressing Trent for a concrete timetable on when changes to the signs will take place.

He might have to wait a while.

In the document, Trent stresses that Westmount has other priorities which are far more pressing than parking signage. Road reconstruction, water main repairs and sewer maintenance will come first, according to Trent.

He also appeared to take a swipe at Staviss and other English-language rights activists in the document.

"It is far from a high priority," Trent wrote. "The whole matter is a tempest in a théière."