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Last week it was determined that the court case pitting Walmart and five other American chain stores against the OQLF, will be heard sometime next Spring.
The Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) is the government agency that is charged with protecting and promoting the French language in the province and which has demanded that these store must change their masthead to include a French descriptor.
Until the disposition of the case, the threat by the OQLF to revoke the famous francization certificate from these companies has been put on hold.
Here's an article that explains the situation somewhat sarcastically, tearing a bit of a strip off the OQLF.
If you are familiar with the particulars, you can skip it and go on to the rest of the post;
"The Office Quebecois de la Langue Francaise, perhaps detecting that Quebecers have been burdened for too long with debates over such serious matters as corruption, tuition fees and the choice of government, has stepped in to offer its own unique brand of foolishness. The OQLF are the language police, those people who skulk around the streets of the province searching for threats to the French language, and inventing them where they don’t exist. It sometimes seems that whenever the rest of the country is in danger of taking Quebec seriously, the language police appear to remind us of the essential absurdity of identity politics.The issue is rather simple, the OQLF has re-interpreted the law that regulates language in Quebec (Bill 101,) telling businesses with English-phrased names (e.g. 'Foot Locker') that they now must add a describing French phrase (descriptor) before or after the name to pay some sort of homage to the French fact in Quebec. The OQLF tells us that with the recent invasion of American retailers, the agency can no longer turn a blind eye to violations of the law, in order to preserve the French face of Quebec.
In this latest instance, the language apparatchiks are being taken to court by a group of internationally-known retail giants, including Walmart, Costco, the Gap, Best Buy, Old Navy and Guess. The companies have all been careful to comply with the province’s laws on language, but are upset that the office, without changing the law, has changed the way it interprets the law, and wants changes from them, pronto" Read the rest of a very good article.
The retailers involved in the lawsuit disagree and affirm that a law that hasn't been changed, cannot or should not be interpreted differently after thirty-five years.
There is a legal question as to whether companies can be required to modify international trademarks and therein lies the crux of the matter, but in many cases, CANADIAN TIRE for example, which has been operating for 85 years in Quebec and for the entire life of Bill 101, an acquired right has clearly been established.
It is actually no different from the case of a fence separating two residential properties, which is determined to be incorrectly placed, infringing by a couple of feet on one of the neighbour's property. If the fence has stood for a certain number of years (I believe that number is 15,) the offending neighbour cannot be compelled to move it and has in fact, acquired the right to infringe upon the property of another.
I'm not a legal expert, perhaps a knowledgeable lawyer like Brent Tyler can wade in on the subject as to whether certain businesses have in fact acquired a de facto right.
|Quebec linguiscists heading for a Humpty-Dumpty fall.|
The PQ government can quickly put an end to this argument by passing a simple and short amendment to Bill 101 that would make descriptors necessary.
Such an amendment would actually pass, even in the minority position that the PQ finds itself in the legislature.
I cannot envisage the opposition voting against such a limited proposal, supporting English over French.
T'aint gonna happen.....
That would leave the companies with only one defence, that of trademark law and I haven't the expertise to say who will win or lose. If it goes to the Supreme Court, I would venture an educated guess that the court will rule on the OQLF side, as it has in the past over the question of French signage.
But in the end, win or lose it hardly matters, the OQLF, by initiating this action has in fact set itself and language militants up for a mighty fall, Humpty-Dumpty style.
Should the OQLF lose, language militants will go ballistic, bitching and moaning for years to come over the fact that in their estimation, Canadian courts, be they in Quebec or Ottawa are an instrument of federalism and can never fully protect Quebec culture and the French language.
It will be a whinger's paradise, with the victim card played to the hilt and frankly I don't look forward to that scenario at all but must admit that the silver lining will be the insufferable pain and angst they suffer as a result.
But should the OQLF actually triumph in court, it will be a Pyrrhic victory and French language militants who will rejoice should be mindful of the old say that reminds us to... "Be careful of what you wish for, you might get it"
Let us consider this scenario, where these companies are forced to add these pathetic descriptors to their masthead.
Of course they will comply, passing off the considerable costs of the name change to consumers across Canada, (yes across the country) who will be asked to pay a little extra to cover the added expense.
But readers, take a look a the Walmart sign at the top of the page which includes an acceptable descriptor.
Does the OQLF really believe that francophones will start using the term 'Supercentre Walmart" over just plain old "Walmart."
The entire issue is flummery, a useless pissing contest over something that is inconsequential, something that hardly affect our lives as Anglophones, nor does it make the slightest of difference to Francophones.
I have to say, that I would entirely support the use of descriptors as some sort of a language compromise. If descriptors somehow validate Francophone Quebecers and the way that they look at themselves, I certainly wouldn't want to stand in the way, it's really no skin off my nose.
But I honestly don't believe a word from linguicists who tell us that something so trivial can actually validate francophone society.
Nope, there is something else going on here.
I will refer readers to another old bit of wisdom, the proverbial story of the dog chasing the truck... the truck stops and the dog thinks to itself..."What do I do now?"
With the issue of descriptors resolved, language militants give up the defining issue of the signage debate, and like the dog who enjoys pursuing the truck, catching it is an abrupt and unsatisfactory end to the game, because it was always really about the chase.
The very worst thing that language militants want is to win, because it is the fight that they relish, just like the dog.
All across Quebec there are committees formed to defend the French language in regions that are devoid of anglophones. All the stores post signs exclusively in French and the only bone to pick is the English store name that lacks this famous descriptor.
Just recently a new
The OQLF tells us that 80% of stores province-wide are in compliance with the signage law and that 16% of stores violate the law based solely on the lack of descriptors.
Let's do the math.
If stores comply, it will leave just 4% of stores in non-compliance and of these you're talking about Mom and Pop operations where a "Dishwasher wanted" sign is the bone of contention, hardly something to embolden the minions to man the barricades.
Now here is the delicious part, let us pretend that the Walmarts and the Foot Lockers comply with the law and add descriptors, the OQLF will then have to face the very thorny issue of enforcement, when language militants target stores with proper names that sound English.
Somebody, either the OQLF or the courts, is going to have to lower the boom on these linguicists who will be demanding that chain stores like Bentley, Simon or Quiznos add descriptors.
Readers should note that this is exactly what the Societe Saint-Jean-Baptiste, Quebec's largest French language pressure group, is demanding today.
There isn't a judge in the province who would uphold a demand by the OQLF that a company like Reitmans be forced to add a descriptor because the origin of the family name is not French Canadian.
The idea is revolting, but that is what linguicists want.
That being said I read something that did disturb me, in an article in the New York Times that discussed the Quebec sign issue;
“This is not against any language,” Mr. Bergeron said. “English, Italian or Chinese, it’s all the same.” He added that the agency will even investigate signs containing names that are not related to any known language. ” Read the NYT articleWHAT THE HECK DOES THAT LAST SENTENCE MEAN!!!
At any rate, can it be that the OQLF will cave into radical demands that proper names that aren't French rooted, add descriptors?
It is too delicious to contemplate!
Friends, this is one English rights defender who wants to see the descriptor issue end, even if it means the OQLF winning.
Regardless of the judicial outcome, the OQLF and language militants will be the big losers and for that, I can hardly wait.