After nearly five months, the Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ) has responded to activist Murray Levine’s request that it install bilingual signs in some of its locations, The Suburban has learned.
However, the response does not mention the issue of signs at all.
Levine had pointed out to the SAQ earlier this year that the provincial Liquor Control Board of Ontario’s (LCBO) policy is to provide services in French as well as English in 112 of its 634 outlets.
“In Ontario’s 25 designated areas, the operational signage in every LCBO store must be bilingual,” says the board’s policy.
Instead, SAQ secretary-general Martine Comtois responded to Levine and Hampstead lawyer Harold Staviss Aug. 4 that the company already adapts its products and services to the many markets it serves, such as the sale of Italian products in Little Italy and Kosher products in areas with many Jewish customers.
Comtois added that while the official language of work is French, SAQ employees are encouraged to communicate with English-speakers in their language, where possible.
The secretary-general also pointed out that the SAQ’s website has been bilingual for many years, as are its publications, some of which are fully in English. “We are also present in the English media, especially on the web, on radio and TV,” she added. “As for official documents, some — such as the annual report — are also produced in whole or in part in English.
“The SAQ is listening to its customers and is constantly trying to improve,” the e-mail concludes.
Levine and Staviss were not satisfied. Levine said the SAQ secretary-general “diplomatically” ignored his request.
“The response arrived after hundreds of people contacted the SAQ and informed them of the law that allows the SAQ to post bilingual signs,” Levine added. “The SAQ had a $1 billion profit in 2015 on $3 billion in sales. Shopping at the LCBO is an option, as is cutting down dramatically on wine/liquor consumption.”
Staviss also noted that the issue of signage was not dealt with by Comtois. The lawyer, who with Côte St. Luc Councillor Ruth Kovac has been calling for more English signage and communications in areas with significant anglophone populations, pointed out that a section of the language law allows government institutions that function like private businesses to have English on signs, as long as French is predominant.
“By not referring to that section and giving some reasoning that the section is not applicable, isn’t she basically admitting that the SAQ does, in fact, have the right to put up English signage, but refuses to act upon it?” Staviss wondered.
The lawyer also wrote to Comtois, expressing his appreciation that the SAQ is always seeking to improve in its communications with customers and the products it offers to different communities. Staviss added that he has never had a problem communicating with store employees in English.