Pop Goes The News – Montreal’s bike sharing service has apologized for suggesting its English-speaking customers may not be smart enough to understand illustrations.
BIXI, a non-profit organization overseen by the City of Montreal, recently installed posters at its docking stations displaying advice for protecting oneself from COVID-19. The posters are in French only but also have illustrations depicting the various steps that can be taken.
In a Twitter response to a complaint about the French-only poster, BIXI tweeted: “We care about all customers of course! You could see english instructions for users on our website (if drawings are not easy to understand).”
In a follow-up tweet, BIXI apologized for its rude response and described it as a “misunderstanding.”
Via email, BIXI insisted the tweet was not intended to be disrespectful to English customers.
“We make sure all of our communications are bilingual,” the message stated. “Our service is fully bilingual, and we guarantee you will be answered at any time in French or English.”
According to Statistics Canada, just under half of Montreal residents identify as francophone and a little more than 14 percent identify as anglophone. In addition to having many English customers, BIXI is popular with tourists – most of whom do not speak French.
“Montreal is a much more bilingual and multilingual city with a population increasingly able to read signs both in English and in French,” noted Patricia Lamarre of the University of Montreal in a 2014 article in the International Journal of the Sociology of Language.
BIXI claimed its posters are only in French to comply with Quebec’s language law. It cited one sentence from the Charter of the French language – “La Charte de la langue française prévoit que l’affichage public et la publicité commerciale doivent être en français” (“The Charter of the French language provides that public signs and commercial advertising must be in French”) – but failed to include the next sentence: “Il existe toutefois des exceptions à cette règle” (“There are, however, exceptions to this rule”).
One of those exceptions, according to Section 58 of the Charter of the French Language, states that “public display and commercial advertising … can also be done both in French and in another language, provided that French is clearly predominant there.” (Signs larger than 16 square metres must be in French only.)
It’s possible BIXI is relying upon a section prohibiting bilingual signs “on or in any public means of transportation” – but the posters are attached to docking stations, not bicycles.
Asked why it misrepresented Quebec law in its first email, BIXI replied – entirely in French: “PVI Pierre and I talked to each other and decided not to respond.”