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Supreme Court Rules Against French-Only Signs

December 15, 1988

TORONTO (AP) _ In a decision that could revive tensions between French and English speakers in Quebec, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled Thursday against a provincial law requiring commercial signs to be written in French.

The court’s 5-0 ruling says Quebec can order French on signs but cannot prevent other languages being used as well.

Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa was expected to announce Sunday how the provincial government will comply with the ruling.

The language law, known as Bill 101, was passed in 1977 when the separatist Parti Quebecois held power. Bourassa’s Liberal Party platform has supported multilingual signs.

The Ottawa court ruling found section 58 of the law requiring commercial signs to be written only in French violated guarantees of freedom of expression provided in the Quebec charter. But it said the Quebec government’s goal of providing a French ″linguistic face″ for the province is valid.

Constitutional lawyers interpreted the ruling as meaning Bourassa should be able to find a compromise.

″The judgment makes it consistent with civil liberties,″ lawyer Julius Grey said in a television interview with Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

Power in Quebec shifted from the English minority to the 81 percent French majority during the 1970s, a tumultuous decade of separatist sentiment that subsided when voters rejected a sovereignty referendum in 1980.

Since then, Quebecers have focused on improved living standards and competitiveness.

The province boasted 5 percent real growth last year and produced 40 percent of Canada’s business administration students. It was a support base for the free trade agreement with the United States signed by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and President Reagan last January.

The court rulings stemmed from two separate cases, one involving five companies that used bilingual signs and the other from Allan Singer, a Montreal stationer who insisted he had the right to use signs written only in English.

″It’s not a good decision for us,″ Singer told reporters in Montreal. ″We wanted the English language in Quebec and in Canada, and we’ve been denied it.″

Morton Brownstein, whose chain of shoe stores is one of five businesses in the other case, told CBC television that all depends on what steps the provincial government takes. ″I think everybody’s looking for a compatible solution to this dilemma,″ he said.

The most ardent supporters of French-only legislation want Bourassa to invoke a clause that could override the Supreme Court ruling. Yet English- speaking ministers in his government are expected to resign unless he acts to comply with it.

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