The Canadian media, including the CBC, is reporting that the Québec
government intends to continue its fight to require the use of
French on signage where trade-marks and business names are
otherwise displayed in English.
This is the latest development in a dispute that has gone on for
a number of years. As previously discussed in our
post from November 23, 2012, a number of well-known
retailers took the Québec government's French language
watchdog, the Office québécois de la langue
française ("OQLF"), to Court over a requirement
that all retailers must use either a generic French descriptive
word or a French language slogan or explanation to reflect what
they are selling, if their signage features an English language
trade-mark – even if such trade-mark is registered under the
Federal Trade-marks Act.
The retailers, which included multinational heavyweights such as
WALMART, COSTCO and BEST BUY, were successful both before the
Québec Superior Court and, more recently in April 2015,
before the Québec Court of Appeal. The Courts
confirmed that the display of English language trade-marks on
exterior store signage, without additional French descriptive
language, did not violate Québec's Charter of the French
Language (the "Charter"), as retailers in Québec
are entitled to post their trade-marks as is – i.e., in
English – on the storefronts of their establishments, because
of exceptions built into the Charter.
The retailers were therefore granted the declaratory judgment
they requested against the OQLF. The Québec government
has until June 26, 2015 to file for leave to appeal to the Supreme
Court of Canada, although the CBC reports that the government will
not seek such leave.
In the meantime, the Québec government has decided to
approach the issue from a matter of legislative change.
Framing the issue as a matter of "politeness" and
awareness of the French language, the government will propose
legislative amendments in the fall that will "ensure a
permanent and visible presence of French" on exterior
storefronts. The government is hoping to have the legislative
amendments in place by 2016.
Using as an example the SECOND CUP coffee retailer, which
apparently is known as "Les cafés SECOND CUP" in
la belle province, Premier Philippe Couillard takes the
view that while "everyone knows" they sell coffee, the
fact that the company uses "les cafés" in
Québec is a recognition on the part of the retailer of the
existence of French in Québec.
While there will apparently be no requirement to translate
English language trade-marks, there will instead be a need to add
descriptive or generic language in French. Hence, once again,
the Québec government is set to challenge the resistance of
companies wishing not to use French on their English language
signage in that province.
The CBC reports that the Retail Council of Canada has endorsed
the move; however, it remains to be seen how companies, including
the aforementioned retailers, will react.
Given the history and the nature of the businesses involved, we
expect that there are more chapters to come in this story.
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