Parking signs must be French only in the officially bilingual city of Westmount, insists Mayor Peter Trent.
The mayor, in a Feb. 9 e-mail to Hampstead lawyer Harold Staviss, said this was based on the city legal department's opinion. The city had decided that parking signs must be unilingual French in 1995.
Staviss, who with Côte St. Luc Councillor Ruth Kovac has been lobbying for increased bilingualism on local company signage and communications, forwarded Trent's e-mail to The Suburban.
In the e-mail, Trent states that "parking signs are traffic signs," and that the rule to be followed is in Section 22 of Bill 101, which says that while only French is to be used on signs put up by civil administrations, both languages can be used for signs involving health and safety.
"Parking signs are not signs that are required to be bilingual for health and safety reasons," the mayor added.
Trent also wrote that while Section 24 allows bilingual municipalities to put up bilingual signs, it does not allow a city to "derogate" from Section 22. The mayor said the city legal department's interpretation of Bill 101 is that Section 24 excludes traffic signs.
Trent added that while his city's new pay-by-plate system signage can be bilingual as it is administrative and informs citizens about parking hours, the regular parking signs are traffic signs directed at drivers.
Westmount also contacted lawyer Julius Grey, and Trent said he agreed with the city's legal interpretation.
"Westmount city council considers the matter closed," Trent wrote to Staviss.
Grey declined comment to The Suburban.
The Suburban asked Trent about partially bilingual signs at the border of Westmount, informing drivers that in the city, they have to drive at 40 km/hr and parking is allowed for a maximum four hours. Trent responded that he believes the signs are informational and can be bilingual.
But Anthony Housefather, former mayor of Côte St. Luc — which has bilingual parking signs — believes parking signs are informational, not traffic, signs.
"I have never seen an actual ruling by any court that Section 22 of Bill 101 predominates over Section 24," the Mount Royal MP added.
Staviss thanked Trent for looking into the issue, but he disagreed with the city's interpretation and believes the mayor contradicted himself regarding the unilingual no parking signs "directed at drivers" and the bilingual pay-by-plate information "directed at citizens."
"Aren’t both systems informational in nature as both provide information to drivers informing them of the authorized hours of parking and, as such, the parking signage should be in both French and English?" Staviss said. "And what is the difference between the French-only parking signage and the sign upon entering Westmount which reads 'A/In Westmount P 4 hres Maximum?'"
Staviss added that while Trent agrees safety signs can be bilingual, he wondered why local signs like "attendez le feu vert" and "attention a nos enfants" are unilingual French.
"If we as anglophones are not going to stand up together for bilingualism, who then will?" Staviss says. "I guess Mr. Trent and I will agree to disagree on the sections of the Charter permitting the use of English on signage."