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Quebec: Should bilingual signage be mandatory?

A consultation recently took place in Quebec’s parliament, which was expected to require all businesses in the province to provide bilingual (English and French) signage.


Official Language of Quebec

French is the official language of Quebec, a province in eastern Canada, as defined by Law 101, the Charter of the French Language. The law protects the fundamental rights of using the French language. There have been a number of amendments to the law since it was passed initially in 1977, some very controversial, and none more so than this latest addition.

The expectation is that following the present consultation period (of 45 days) all businesses with branches in Quebec will be required by law to provide at least some French on their external signage. That may be an equivalent translation of the business name, or simply a description of the products or services they provide. The French text would have to be given equal importance, for example if the English name is lit up, the French version would also need to be illuminated.

Impact on Businesses

It would apply to almost all businesses, including some of the most well-known brands such as Walmart, GAP and Costco, and is expected to cost firms thousands of dollars. However, the law is not expected to apply to corporations with family names, such as McDonalds.

The change has been years in the offing, after the government lost court cases in both 2014 and 2015 against these major retailers refusing to add the French signage.

Mixed Opinion

Government officials have argued that many firms already offer bilingual signage and that there is only a minority failing to do so. They assert that it is a matter of politeness; companies should acknowledge where their businesses are located and respect their environment. Those against the amendment claim that it is just a petty money-spinner. Nevertheless, the wheels are in motion and while companies will be given up to three years to comply, after that time substantial fines will be imposed on those refusing to observe the new legislation.

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