Westmount mayor Peter Trent announced Monday that his city will gradually replace its unilingual French parking signs with bilingual ones, but it will be a “low priority project.”
Hampstead lawyer Harold Staviss has communicated extensively with Trent on the issue, questioning why an officially bilingual municipality has French-only parking signs, while other bilingual municipalities like Côte St. Luc, Hampstead and Montreal West have bilingual parking signs.
Trent has insisted, based on the opinion of his city’s legal department, that the parking signs are traffic signs and the language law calls on them to be in French only unless they deal with health and safety. But the Office Québécois de la Langue Française recently said the parking signs are not traffic signs, and can be bilingual with French predominating.
At the Monday meeting, Trent jokingly called the issue of the language of parking signs “my favourite subject.
“What we need to do is rip off a scab from days gone by and go back to the good old language wars,” he quipped.
Trent revealed that the Office de la Langue Française (now the OQLF) ordered Westmount in the early 1990s to replace its non-conforming parking signs, and that the agency considered parking signs to be traffic signs.
“The City of Westmount’s interpretation of the law and the OQLF’s interpretation of the law, up until a few years ago, was that parking signs are a subset of traffic and road signs, and I have the proof,” the mayor explained. “Now we are informed that the OQLF has changed its mind, and parking signs are no longer classified as traffic or road signs. What they are, I don’t know. The law has not changed, but the OQLF’s interpretation has. This volte-face just adds to the great masses of time already wasted on such legalistic and linguistic [issues].”
Trent said a bigger priority for the city is to reduce the visual pollution of its existing traffic signs, but that the city will gradually replace the unilingual parking signs.
“If there should be any party irritated by the OQLF’s flip-flop, it should be the City of Westmount, which spent $30,000 to conform 20 years ago and is now being told it wasn’t necessary.”
Trent said the parking sign change won’t happen overnight.
“These signs last well over 10 years, and we have 2,500 of them. The top priority of public works now is to reconstruct roads, water mains and sewers.”
Staviss feels Trent is not taking the matter seriously.
“What may have been the case 20 years ago with respect to the language on parking signs, is no longer the case today,” Staviss said. “The relevant provisions of the Charter of the French Language with respect to parking signage and the OQLF’s interpretation are very clear indeed; and Mr. Trent’s reasoning and the two legal opinions he received for not have bilingual parking signs, are incorrect. Yet, Mayor Trent will not even commit to have bilingual parking signage installed over a period of time, say a three to five year period. His only commitment is that the bilingual parking signs will be installed when the current ones have to be replaced and how often are parking signs changed, every 10, 15 or 20 years?”