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Debate on language used on signs in Canada spreading across Canada

Signs of language debate have sprouted all across Canada

Some other Canadian cities have already stared down the issue of languages on signs.

In Richmond Hill, an Ontario community with a population nearly the same as Richmond’s, a bylaw requires at least 50 per cent of a sign’s text to be in English or French. The most common ethnic origin in Richmond Hill is Chinese, at 17.5 per cent of the population.

Phyllis Carlyle, general manager of law and community safety at the City of Richmond, said Monday she’s not aware of the Ontario bylaw being challenged in court.

In Moncton, New Brunswick—which has a large francophone population—the language war involves English and French. The city of 124,055 people has long faced pressure to pass a bylaw to ensure signs are bilingual. But Moncton’s approach is to encourage bilingual signs through education and by offering free window signs.

“Council wanted to encourage and foster the increased use of bilingual signage in our community,” said Moncton Mayor George LeBlanc in a statement on the city’s website.

A brochure recently published by Moncton suggests bilingual exterior signs make “good business sense,” noting over 50 per cent of its residents speak both English and French.

A neighbouring city of Dieppe, however, approved a bylaw in 2010 requiring exterior commercial signs—including billboard advertisements—to be in both official languages of Canada.

According to the bylaw, lettering must be identical in French and in English—and French must be displayed first. The bylaw allows some exceptions, most notably the name of a business, which can be unilingual.

Although the bylaw doesn’t apply to signs erected before 2010, the City of Dieppe offers an incentive to businesses seeking to comply with the bylaw. The city offers up to $3,000 toward the purchase of a new sign or modification of an existing one.

Across the province of Quebec, the French Language Charter requires businesses to have French on their signs. According to a publication by Canadian law firm McCarthy Tétrault, rules differ according to whether the communication is in a public or private place.

“Billboards and signs visible from a public highway, on a public transport vehicle or in a bus shelter must be exclusively in French. Public signs, posters and commercial advertising located elsewhere may include other languages, but the French text must predominate.”

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