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Quebec wants stores with English names to add French to outdoor signs

The Quebec government says it won’t tamper with companies’ trademarks, but says it has come up with new regulations that will ensure those trademarks have a French appearance when displayed on outdoor signs. Culture Minister Hélène David, who is responsible for the province’s French language charter, announced the regulatory changes in the parking lot of a shopping centre in Montreal’s east-end St-Léonard borough on Tuesday. “The draft regulations on signage will ensure that every trademark visible from the highway, from an industrial park or from another place indicates that we’re indeed in Quebec and not in Maine or Massachusetts,” David said. She described the move as a concrete measure to preserve the francophone identity of Quebec by having “trademarks with a French face.” Companies with trademarks in a language other than French will be required to add generic or descriptive words in French around their trademark on their outdoor signs. They may also opt for a slogan or informative wording in French about the type of goods or services that are offered inside, such as a restaurant that displays “Menu midi” (“Lunch menu”) in its window. The French words will have to be positioned near the trademark to make them as noticeable as the non-French words. And if the non-French trademark is lit up on the sign, then the French words will also have to be illuminated. For example, a chain store with an English trademark that reads “Big Warehouse” could add “Matériaux de construction” (“Building materials”) next to the English name on its outdoor signs to comply with the new measures. The regulations will apply to any type of business, such as hotels and restaurants, and not just to stores. The Office québécois de la langue française would be charged with enforcement. Businesses with existing signs would have three years to comply with the new regulations. The government estimates it would cost companies anywhere from $500 to $9,000 to make the necessary sign changes, depending on the size and number of signs. “If it’s $9,000, I suppose it’s because it’s a very big company,” David said. “I think they can assume the amount. … I don’t think it’s very expensive for the purpose of this (regulation).” In fact, the Quebec Superior Court and Court of Appeal recently ruled that Bill 101 allows trademark names on signs in a language other than French. The government decided against taking the matter to the Supreme Court of Canada, and promised instead to present changes to Bill 101‘s regulations. That promise, and an informal consultation by David’s parliamentary assistant with several groups and businesses in November, culminated in the changes that are being presented, David said. The reaction from business and employers’ groups seemed to be favourable.

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