Quebec court says big retailers like Best Buy, Walmart, don’t have to translate their names into French

·National Affairs Contributor
Quebec court says big retailers like Best Buy, Walmart, don’t have to translate their names into French

You can probably anticipate the reaction from Quebec nationalists to a court decision allowing big multinational retailers to continue using their English-language names on signage and advertising.

The Quebec Superior Court has ruled chains — such as Best Buy, Costco, Gap, Old Navy, Walmart, and Toys R' Us — that use their trademark names in a language other than French are not violating the Charter of the French Language, also known as Bill 101, The Canadian Press reports.

Eight companies took the Office québécois de la langue française, the province's language watchdog, to court in 2012. They argued they should not be required to modify their internationally recognized trademark names to conform with Section 63 of the charter that says the name of a business enterprise must be in French.

[ Related: Walmart to take Quebec to court over need for bilingual signs ]

The office had suggested, for instance, that Walmart could become "Le Magasin Walmart" – which in my opinion gives the discount giant a classy touch.

The requirement to display French-language names previously had not been applied to big international companies, though some had made the change. Kentucky Fried Chicken famously became "Poulet Frit Kentucky."

Quebec's language police threatened to revoke the companies' certification if they didn't comply, which would have made them ineligible to receive government contracts or subsidies, QMI Agency reported.

The Retail Council of Canada backed the companies. Nathalie St-Pierre, vide-presicent of Canada's Quebec branch told CTV News the requirement seemed pointless when it came to famous international retailers.

"You know the brand, you know the colours, you know the sign," St-Pierre said. "That's the work that's done behind setting up a trademark and there are brands that stand on their own and need no description."

Justice Michel Yergeau sided with the companies.

"The public display ... of their trademarks exclusively in a language other than French, when there is no French version of the trademark, does not violate the Charter of the French Language," Yergeau said, according to QMI Agency.

In his ruling, handed down Wednesday, Yergeau said that while business signs should generally be in French, those incorporating trademark names are exempt.

[ Related: Quebec anglophone supporters protest proposed language laws ]

The government has 30 days to appeal the judgment. Language watchdog Jean-Pierre Le Blanc said the decision on whether to appeal would come from Quebec's attorney general.

The ruling came down just days after the sovereigntist Parti Quebecois, architect of the four-decade-old language law, was crushed in Monday's provincial election.

It's interesting to speculate what impact the ruling might have had if it had come down a week ago. The PQ, which had hoped to translate its minority-government status into a majority, planned to update the language charter to extend the use of French in the workplace to smaller businesses and use of the language when dealing with the public.

As it is, the judgment has sparked calls for a boycott of the big retailers who challenged the law.

"Forget the companies that forget us and encourage those who respect us," Jean-Paul Perreault, president of Imperatif Francais, told QMI Agency.

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