POLITICS

Quebec To Tighten Language Laws, Have Major Retailers Include French Wording

06/12/2015 03:39 EDT | Updated 06/12/2016 05:59 EDT
QUEBEC - The Quebec government says it intends to strengthen the province's language laws to oblige major retailers to include French wording in their commercial English signage.

Premier Philippe Couillard left little doubt about the government's intentions on Friday during a final news conference before the summer break at the legislature.

"We don't want to erase trademarks — it's not that Canadian Tire will become Pneu Canadien, let's be clear on that, but it's a question of politeness," Couillard said.

A published report on Friday said the changes could come as early as next week, but Couillard would only commit to announcing measures in the near future.

In April, Quebec's Court of Appeal ruled the province's language watchdog cannot force companies such as Best Buy, Old Navy and Costco to add a French component to their name.

As soon as that ruling was issued, Couillard had said he wouldn't exclude taking a legislative route to force major retailers to comply. The Opposition Parti Quebecois had urged the premier to do that to close certain loopholes.

"I would have hoped that all companies would have done so voluntarily, there are only a few who don't and we're nearing the end of our analysis," Couillard said.

Couillard suggested that a short descriptive word in French was necessary given the Francophone majority in Quebec.

He gave the example of Second Cup, the coffee retailer that is known as "Les cafes Second Cup" in Quebec.

"Everyone knows that they sell coffee, but it's like this company said, 'I know where I am, I know what environment I am and recognize the existence of the French in Quebec,'" Couillard said.

In April 2014, a Quebec Superior Court judge sided with the companies, which included Wal-Mart, Costco, Best Buy, Gap, Old Navy and Guess.

Several multinationals took the province to court after they were told by the language watchdog to change their names or risk running afoul of the rules governing the language of business in the province.

The Office quebecois de la langue francaise wanted the firms to change their signs to either give themselves a generic French name or add a slogan or explanation that reflected what they sold.

But Superior Court Justice Michel Yergeau ruled in favour of the major retailers, noting that while trademarks fall under federal jurisdiction, it's up to the Quebec legislature to "take the lead" if it considers the French language is suffering because of English trademarks.

Earlier Friday, Quebec Culture Minister Helene David wouldn't comment on a report in Le Devoir newspaper on Friday the government would introduce changes as early as next week.

"We are looking at all the options, and when we're ready, we'll be able to announce a decision," David said.

The government has until June 26 to decide whether they'll appeal the case to the Supreme Court of Canada.

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