WATCH: Billy Shields reports on a group of English-speakers who are encouraging bilingual signage in Montreal
MONTREAL — As Harold Staviss stands outside The Bay at the corner of St. Catherine and Union Streets in Montreal, he looks at the signage — almost all of which is in French — as a slap in the face.
“The Charter of the French Language doesn’t ban English,” he said.
As long as French is prominently displayed, English signs are allowed under Bill 101, but he said he believes “many stores just don’t care and don’t respect the Charter.”
“They respect the Charter by not having English signs and that’s not right.”
Along with Cote-St-Luc city councillor Ruth Kovac, Staviss is leading a new charge for bilingualism in the city of Montreal.
They are keeping a list of businesses that are bilingual, somewhat bilingual, and unilingual in French, a list that Kovac refers to as “the good, the bad and the ugly.”
“The Bay is probably the most intransigent, we have tried to reach them at many levels, including the President, but we’ve never received back an answer,” she said.
“I’m trying to put English back where it belongs, and give respect back to the English consumer.”
Another business Kovac said lacked English signs was David’s Tea.
Although Global News reached out to both The Bay and David’s Tea, neither provided a comment on the language complaints by deadline.
Human rights lawyer Julius Grey said that Kovac and Staviss have every right to push for bilingual signage “in the same way that a lobby for the handicapped could go into some store and say ‘I think you need a ramp here.'”
The one difference, Grey noted, is that unlike the lobby for the disabled, advocates for bilingualism likely would not have a legal rationale to sue over it.
Ironically, the agency that many regard as the root of the problem has an official position that allows for bilingualism.
“The French must be bigger, but the law permits that the signs can be in English or in other languages too,” said Jean-Pierre Leblanc, a spokesperson for the Office québécois de la langue française.
However, the anglophone activists Global News talked to said they have no problem with French signage, what they are fighting for is what they see as a lack of respect.
“Out of courtesy, they should at least provide English under the rules set forth by the Charter of the French Language,” Staviss said.