It's taken over a decade, but the trial of merchants fighting the sign law under the Charter of the French Language finally got underway at the Montreal courthouse this morning.
Most of the fines the merchants received relate to having signs with French and another language on them, mainly English, and the words in the two languages are the same size, which is illegal under the law, or the French words are not predominant, as stipulated by the law.
Other fines relate to packaging or web content with languages other than French.
Lawyer Brent Tyler originally represented 86 companies but the Quebec government dropped the fines against nearly half of them. Four of the companies no longer exist, so 28 cases remain.
Some of the fines date back over 10 years but the merchants are really contesting the law which they argue is unacceptable and violate their Charter right to freedom of expression.
"It't our view that the French language is doing extremely well in Quebec. It doesn't need legislative coersion to support it. We're maintaining that the French language is not vulnerable in the province of Quebec to the point where it justifies infringing Charter rights," Tyler told reporters.
The fines back then were about $500 and now are four or five times the amount.
But Tyler said it's not about the fines.
"For my clients, it's very important issues relating to the Charter that are at stake. Whoever loses here will go to appeal, this case hopefully will end up in the Supreme Court one day, it takes a long time, seven years to get there but you've got to start somewhere and that's what we're doing today," Tyler said.
"What we want to prevent is state-sponsored harassment of small, Anglo merchants and we'll do that if the law is declared invalid."
The trial is scheduled for seven days.