Bill 101 case going to Court of Appeal

Justice Marie-Josée Hogue of Quebec's Court of Appeal.

The Quebec Court of Appeal has granted leave to hear a challenge to the province’s language of commercial signage law.

The case, now brought by 11 businesses, involves signs, packaging and websites that were found to have violated the language law. The law demands French predominance.

The businesses lost in Quebec Court and Superior Court, despite testimony from demographer Calvin Veltman in Quebec Court that the fear of the vulnerability of French in Quebec was no longer valid today.

Lawyer Charles O’Brien, speaking from Foster on Brome Lake, told The Suburban that the Court of Appeal addressed two major considerations.

“The first had to do with the notion floated by the government that the Ford decision in 1988 decided, once and for all, that the French language is vulnerable in Quebec, and therefore the determination is not to be considered again — the court rejected that outright,” the lawyer explained. “Madame Justice Marie-Josée Hogue was very careful in her questioning of those lawyers to really say that the notion that one decision in 1988 could determine the risk of extinction of the French language for all time was not a credible story.”

O’Brien said the Quebec government’s perception is that the defence has a burden of proof to prove French is no longer vulnerable in the province.

“That’s inconsistent with the idea that the matter is moot or irrelevant. If there’s a burden of proof, no matter who’s got it, it’s an open question.”

The lawyer said the second consideration addressed by the Court of Appeal is that even if courts have taken a position on outdoor signs, the issues brought now had to do with indoor signs, packaging and websites.

“Those three issues have not been addressed by the court whatsoever. It turns out there was one indoor sign in the 1988 case, but the case was treated as an outdoor matter. Our definition of a visage linguistique, the relevant thing to look at, is what you see in a public thoroughfare, so that doesn’t apply to indoor signs, packaging or websites. It’s a combination of the fact there have been changes over time to the risk of the extinction of the French language in Quebec, and that there are now three new categories of types of claims before the court.”

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