The Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) has yet to decide whether it will seek to appeal a Superior Court judgment that allows a number of retail outlets to continue with their current signage.

In a 58-page decision handed down Wednesday morning, Justice Michel Yergeau declared that “public signage by the plaintiffs of their trademarks exclusively in a language other than French, when there is no French version on the trademark, does not contravene the French language charter nor the law on the language of businesses.”

The issue first arose in 1998 when PQ language minister Louise Beaudoin expressed concerns about the signs that she felt might threaten the French face of Quebec.

Businesses that failed to add a generic term, such as “café” before their trademark were at risk of losing their language law compliance certificates.

However the judge ruled that the companies were not obliged to add a French-language description to their signs.

The plaintiffs were Best Buy, Costco, The Gap, Old Navy, Guess, Walmart and Curves.

OQLF spokesman Jean-Pierre Leblanc told CTV Montreal that the OQLF is studying the judgment. The group has 30 days to decide whether not to ask the Quebec Crown Prosecutor to ask for an appeal.

'It was a stupid argument'

One lawyer who has long specialized in Quebec's language laws told CTV Montreal said this is probably not the last we hear of this case. "Of course they'll appeal," said Brent Tyler, predicting the government's next move.

Tyler said that the attempt to change the sign rules came out of the blue. “I was a little amazed when the Office first came up with this interpretation. The OQLF argues that a company name is the equivalent of a trademark and that’s not the case."

A trademark, Tyler noted, can be a slogan or several other things and legally falls under federal jurisdiction.

“It was a stupid argument to begin with," said Tyler. "The OQLF took the position that a French description was not required and then, without changing the law or regulations, suddenly changed their position to say that it is required.”

Tyler notes that the attempt to force the signage change was launched under the Charest Liberals, who he notes also, “tripled the fines, added more language inspectors all with a view of playing to the soft nationalists.”

Tyler will plead a separate case challenging the law on language on signs, a case which kicks off May 14.

See judgment below.

Superior Court decision on OQLF vs. multinationals