Quebec’s language police wants large retailers such as Walmart and Costco to change their trade names. Retailers are taking Quebec government to court.
Quebec is the only place in the civilised world where a business is prohibited from displaying a sign in an internationally recognised language or English, not to mention that English and French are this country’s two official languages. Passed in 1974 by Quebec’s Liberal Premier Robert Bourassa as a concession to the Quebec separatists, the purported objective of the law was to protect the French culture and language on the predominantly English-speaking North American continent or, rather in fact, to show the middle finger to English-speaking Quebecers and the federal government. Quebec’s Official Language Act does not recognise English as an official language in the province in spite of the federal Official Languages Act. The law requires the exclusive use of French in commercial signs, business and labour relations and schools, the latter with some exemptions.
Quebec is the only place in the world with a language police. The Quebec language Gestapo cracks down on English signs and forces business owners to change them into French no matter how ridiculous the translation may sound. Imagine if we had an English-language police as well. “Le Coq Au Vin” restaurant would have to be called “Cock In The Wine” and the popular “A La Crepe Bretonne” would probably have to be “Britannian Crap” for lack of an accurate English translation for crepe.
After terrorising small businesses for three decades the Quebec language cops are now going after big trademarked names. On the target list are Costco, Walmart, Best Buy, Old Navy, GAP and Guess. These companies are taking the Quebec government to court to argue that the existing legislation doesn’t apply to registered brand names. The legal battle comes on the eve of the separatist Parti Quebecois forming a minority government. The party is concerned that the use of French in business has been declining in Quebec in spite of the language law. When the Parti Quebecois first came to power in 1976 under the separatist militant premier Rene Levesque some quarter million Quebecers migrated to Toronto with hundreds of head offices, transforming cosmopolitan Montreal into a backwater provincial town.
In spite of the fact that, according to McGill University Faculty of Law in Montreal, Quebec’s Language Law is unconstitutional and breaches the Charter of Rights, federal politicians have been surprisingly reluctant to openly challenge this law. It’s an anomaly that Canada’s Official Languages Act is still strictly enforced in all areas under federal jurisdiction. Air Canada was fined last year for not having an attendant sufficiently fluent in French on a local Ontario flight, and the two francophone complainants received damages since she couldn’t pronounce coffee in French.
It may well be argued that Quebec’s language law has done more harm than good to the preservation of French language and culture by making Quebec’s “distinct society” appear as distinctly obsolete dummies. In case the retailers lose the language battle, here are some suggested names from a bilingual Canadian: Costco-Compagnie Prix ; Walmart-Mur De Berlin; Old Navy-Forces Navales De Napoleon A Trafalgar; GAP-Mon Dieu C’est Grand; Guess-Peek A Boo…