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Quebec businesses frustrated at cost and logistics of French-language law rules

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Quebec merchants are facing another deadline to comply with new French language rules found in Bill 96 related to the size of French script on signage.

Some business owners say it will come with a sizable price tag and be a nightmare to implement.

Businesses in the province spent millions of dollars to adjust their signs in 2019, and, five years later, are looking at doing it all over again.

"The rules up to now was that the French signage had to be significantly bigger, and now it has to be twice bigger," said Retail Council of Canada Quebec president Michel Rochette.

Rochette said the new rules in Bill 96 come down to the government splitting hairs.

"For some banners, the changes might be something like a few centimetres wider, but will cost them millions of dollars because those changes have to be applied all across Quebec," he said.

The rule has to be applied to all businesses with a language other than French.

Caffe Mille Gusti owner Joe Scalia is going ahead with the required changes and trying to look on the bright side.

"It's an Italian name in an Italian cafe, so it's kind of an image," he said. "It's kind of frustrating, but I try not to let it get the best of me. I try to be optimistic about it."

Scalia said he doesn't know what it will cost him yet, or what it'll look like exactly, but he has the right guy for the job and is confident in his ability.

"Jonathan Rheault," said Scalia. "He does all my signage for the cafe. I always tell him he has carte blanche. I'm sure he's going to make me happy and, as for the laws and rules, he'll oblige by them, that's for sure."

Intellectual property expert Isabelle Jomphe said the wording in the law is vague.

"Some rules are open to interpretation," said the lawyer. "So we have to advise clients to make sure that they will be compliant to the best of our knowledge and interpretation of the law."

She's advising clients on everything from product labelling, websites and commercial signage to cover all of their bases.

She added that there is at least some relief for retailers who won't be required to have French on engraved markings and appliances for the time being.

"So, for the time being, businesses don't have to worry about having to translate those engravings, which can be very costly and demanding," she said.

While some questions linger, businesses have the next 11 months to navigate the various rules in Bill 96. 

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