It's an old story, which I believed had been settled many years back, when a United Nations panel ruled that the sign provision of Bill 101 violated Canada's convention obligations."The Quebec government is getting ready to launch a campaign this fall against big-box stores and their stubbornly English names.The president of the Office québécois de la langue française, the agency that oversees the province's language laws, says the sign issue will be very important in the next few months."
Perhaps with a new cast of Young Turks, the OQLF is attempting to re-open this can of worms, although I can't see there position being more valid now, then it was in the past.
Back in the last century, the OLF was pushing companies to change their corporate name or use a different French trademark. Some companies did comply and changed their masthead.
Office Depot (Now Staples) became Bureau en Gros. and Shoppers Drug Mart became Pharmaprix. The Bank of Nova Scotia became the Banque de Nouvelle Ecosse, a literal translation which was changed once again, this time to Banque Scotia. The very worst example of conformity was Marks Work Wearhouse which became the perfectly awful "La Ouerâsse, a meaningless, yet French-sounding word. Mercifully, the stores were re-branded as L'Équipeur.
In all the recent stories published in the French press concerning the latest effort of the OQLF, all refer to the Supreme Court as the culprit in overturning certain aspects of Bill 101 in relation to signage.
These stories conveniently forget to detail the debacle that Quebec suffered at the United Nations, where the sign provisions of Bill 101 were found to contravene Article 19.2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Canada is a signatory. The ruling came as a result of a complaint made by some Quebeckers. For details, see McIntyre v. Canada
Here is part of the ruling made by the United Nations.Article 19.2 "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice."
"...While the restrictions on outdoor advertising are indeed provided for by law, the issue to be addressed is whether they are necessary for the respect of the rights of others. The rights of others could only be the rights of the francophone minority within Canada under article 27. This is the right to use their own language, which is not jeopardized by the freedom of others to advertise in other than the French language. Nor does the Committee have reason to believe that public order would be jeopardized by commercial advertising outdoors in a language other than French. The Committee notes that the State party does not seek to defend Bill 178 on these grounds. Any constraints under paragraphs 3(a) and 3(b) of article 19 would in any event have to be shown to be necessary. The Committee believes that it is not necessary, in order to protect the vulnerable position in Canada of the francophone group, to prohibit commercial advertising in English. This protection may be achieved in other ways that do not preclude the freedom of expression, in a language of their choice, of those engaged in such fields as trade. For example, the law could have required that advertising be in both French and English. A State may choose one or more official languages, but it may not exclude, outside the spheres of public life, the freedom to express oneself in a language of one's choice. The Committee accordingly concludes that there has been a violation of article 19, paragraph 2." LINKInterestingly, the UN Committee also ruled that not only did the sign law contravene this section, the Quebec government could not invoke the 'Notwithstanding Clause' to opt out, because it would have the effect of breaching Canada's international commitment.
In other words, Quebec could not opt out of an international commitment made by Canada, in the same way that Quebec could not opt out of Canada's commitment to ban the importation of ivory, or Canada's international commitment not to import slaves. As long as Quebec remains a province, it is bound by Canada's international obligations.
Then of course there's the question of trademarks, where the Quebec government also found itself on the wrong end of a legal judgment which ruled that it could not stop companies from displaying an English trademark as a masthead .
And so the issue has largely been ignored for almost two decades. Some companies continue to change their names to adapt, some don't, some make a half-hearted effort like The Brick which dropped the "The" part of their name and is known simply as the Brick. Companies like Home Depot, Mailboxes Etc., Future Shop, Best Buy and a multitude of others continue to trade under an English banner, much to the chagrin of the OQLF and language purists.
Any Anglo living in Quebec, who has a first name that has a similar version in French, has had the unpleasent experience of seeing their name morph to a French version, changed by a data entry clerk at the license bureau, the government or credit card company.
Many of us whose name is Allan, George or Mary, etc. have had documents show up in our mailbox with our name changed to the French version of Alain,' 'Georges' or 'Marie.' It isn't really deliberate, just a data entry error made by a clerk making a bad correction in good faith. But it is annoying and hard to correct.
It seems that we take great exception to having our name trifled with and I imagine that international companies are not keen to have their name or trademark changed as well.
Companies like 'Foot Locker" operate stores around the world (even in France) under the same trademark and corporate name and are loathe to change because the OQLF tells them to do so.
Most of these offending multinationals do a fantastic job at adapting to the local marketplace, providing a complete service in French. All packaging and instructions are provided in French and the additional costs involved for the translation, by the way, is passed on to Canadians across the country, as prices are generally held at the same level in all Canadian stores, in the same way that Anglophone Canadians pay the majority of the costs for dubbing of English movies into French.
Such is the cost of a 'bilingual' country, but I digress.
Here's a translation of an interesting article from Hebdo Rive-Nord last April, by Kassandra Martel, which sort of sums up the whole situation. Read the original story in French
UPS Store or Boutique UPS?
The opening a UPS Store on Brien boulevard has become controversial because of its entirely English name. The Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste (SSJB) opposes the English signage.
"It's not the fact that UPS opened a branch that bothers us, but rather that the entire signage is in English which shocks us," says Claude Richard, active member of the SSJB Section Pierre Le- Gardeur. That's what prompted the association to send a letter to UPS and to hold a small demonstration.
In the past, the SSJB had acted the same way with companies like Second Cup, Shoppers Drug Mart, Staples and others. These companies have changed their name to 'Les cafés Second cup,' 'Pharmaprix' and 'Bureau en gros.' But there are some companes that want nothing to do with name changes while others make partial or complete changes, "says Richard.
Claudine Belasky, a Repentigny native is proud of his store, and says that while the trademark is in English, the remaining display and service, is in French. "For the owner of the franchise in Quebec, David Decker, a French-speaking Quebecker, it is important to serve the people in their own language. The name 'The UPS Store' is just a trademark. "
He is proud to have invested in his hometown and finds the reaction of the SSJB deplorable. "My first customer came in here saying-" God listened to me: Finally a UPS store." He said this because the closest locations are in Laval or Montreal." In addition, the SSJB sent him a threatening letter, accusing him of not respecting its citizens. "This letter is addressed to me personally, even though we are two owners," He complains.
Tuesday, 21 protesters were outside 'The UPS Store' to advocate for more use of French.
The SSJB. Section-Pierre Le-Gardeur, supported by the Mouvement Montréal français, demonstrated in the parking lot in front of the branch in Repentigny. Several slogans were hurled by demonstrators, demanding more use of French.
As before, the SSJB, through Claude Richard, claims it will continue the protests. "If they do not respond, there will be other events," declared Richard.
The isn't going to become "Magasin des colis unifiés" (direct French translation-.ed)
According to the head office in Montreal, there's no need to see a change in the name of the store. The UPS Store said that it was aware of its rights and that the company isn't violating any law. The trademark required a lot of investment and the English name does not affect anything.
Scott McKay, PQ MNA for L'Assomption MRC, was indignant. In his letter to the company, he writes: "By choosing to display the name of 'The UPS Store,' you show a blatant lack of consideration for the French character of our society and you create an unacceptable affront . "The MP added:" You missed a good opportunity to show interest in your customers. "The Parti Quebecois (PQ) laments the imminent decline from French to English names. This creates, according to the PQ, a problem that must be addressed. Scott McKay clarified: "We cannot address this through modifications in Bill 101, as trade names are governed by an international agreement. We must therefore turn to popular pressure. I have decided to boycott The UPS Store and I call on all people of Repentigny, to do the same "said Mr. McKay.
In 1977, Bill 101 made French the official language of the state. This law established that French be the language of commercial signs.
And so, does an English name like this contravene the law?And so today, mindful of the law, the OQLF is mounting a new and different initiative, which for want of a better term I have dubbed the 'SECOND CUP' rule.
According to the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF), there is no violation of the law, if the company name is recorded in English at the Office of Intellectual Property of Canada. "The name becomes a registered trademark and it becomes a business decision by the company to translate it or not," says Martin Bergeron, spokesperson for the OQLF.
Back in the 1981, The Second Cup coffee chain was harassed by the OLF (as the language board was known in those days), language militants and even ex-FLQ terrorists demanding that the name be changed to something more French. Three shops were actually bombed by militants over the issue and one activist was sentenced to jail for nine years.
In the end the company agreed to call its Quebec stores by the more acceptable "Les cafés Second Cup" and so the 'modifier rule, or the 'Second Cup rule' was born.
This means that English sounding store names required a French modifier either before or after the English, in order to make it more respectful of the French majority.
As the old Mary Poppins song says: "A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down"
And Presto, a hybrid is born- 'Lunetterie' New Look, 'Rôtisseries' Scores and 'Farine' Five Roses, for example.
For the OQLF, gone is the old plan to get companies to convert their names to French as in changing the APPLE STORE into the MAGASIN POMME.
Today the OQLF is trying to get stores with English appellations to add French modifiers. Sometimes the results are barely perceptible as in the examples above, sometimes not.
Adding the word MAGASIN to the 'The UPS Store' is a bit silly and redundant.
What can be added to HOME DEPOT and FUTURE SHOP to make it more acceptable?
Reaction to the OQLF initiative by consumers has been decidedly negative and in many cases surprisingly sarcastic, judging by the comments under stories featured in French online media.
Next week I'm going to share with readers some samples of the more interesting comments. It's actually worth a whole post!
Note to readers;
For those of you who consider the title of this piece a bit redundant, it is a tribute to the great Yankee catcher and manager Yogi Berra who coined the phrase "It's like déjà vu all over again." For a chuckle and a good read, go over to this page to see some of the great quotes he came up with like "It ain't over, til it's over," most of them blurted out inadvertently.
HAVE A GOOD WEEKEND- SEE YOU MONDAY!