When Quebec’s French Language Charter took effect 35 years ago, one of its goals was to transform the physical face of Montreal.
The province’s biggest city would, under the new legislation, look French.
Street signs and directions and public announcements would be in French, and so would store signs. When Montrealers walked down Ste. Catherine St. to shop, they would no longer be in any doubt that this is a city whose main language is French.
But Ste. Catherine St. today is not quite the French experience the drafters of Bill 101 had hoped for. Walking past stores called Banana Republic, Roots, Aldo, American Eagle Outfitters, Zara, French Connection, Foot Locker and Old Navy, a shopper might have no idea that Montreal is supposed to be a French-first city.
The government has promised that this will change, and promptly. The Office québécois de la langue française, the charter’s enforcement arm, last month began mailing warnings to dozens of companies, telling them they will be fined between $1,500 and $20,000 and their francization certificate revoked if they fail to comply with language-charter regulations.
The office says these regulations require businesses to add a “generic” French description to their company name – for instance, “quincaillerie” to Home Depot, or “magasin” to Canadian Tire.
The agency said this week it is turning to sterner measures because there is little to show for its campaign urging companies to voluntarily add French to their commercial signs. (Some companies have complied – for instance Second Cup, which has added “Les Cafés” to its signs, and Starbucks, which in Quebec is “Café Starbucks Coffee.”)
Office spokesperson Martin Bergeron told the National Post that the issue of commercial signs is important in Quebec “to show that the linguistic landscape here is different.” But there lies the rub. Few cities in the world have proved immune to the forces of globalization, and one of the forms globalization takes is the proliferation of the same stores in cities everywhere. Zara, Gap and French Connection have become ubiquitous. They’re in Abu Dhabi, Mumbai, Nairobi, Paris, London, New York and Montreal. Their commercial signs are their trademarks. As trademarks, they look the same wherever they are. This is what Quebec says must change.
Major Canadian retailers with outlets in Quebec have said they will fight to keep their trademark signs. The Retail Council of Canada’s vice-president for Quebec, Nathalie St-Pierre, says the council has received legal advice that there is no requirement under Bill 101 for companies with English brands to add French descriptions on their signs. Obviously businesses would rather not go to the expense of changing signs, stationery and other business items if it is not necessary.
Read more: http://www.montrealgazette.com/business/Editorial+sign+little+sensitivity+could+long/6820162/story.html#ixzz1z4YrsohS