Canada is bilingual, yet some major metros like the Greater Toronto Area have all of their traffic signs in English only, without a French duplicate.

Is this legal or not? Do you have to respect such signs, e.g. no turn Mon-Fri, or are they effectively informational only? What if you don't even speak any French?

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    New Zealand has 3 official languages: English, Maori & NZ sign language. The mind boggles :-). Commented Sep 10, 2015 at 11:35
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    Driving from England into Wales in 2003 the highway described a series of broad S's such that the road crossed to and fro over the England - Wales border multiple tiomes - typically a mile or few between crossings. When in Wales the signs were in Welsh with English below. When in England the signs were in English. Really. Commented Sep 10, 2015 at 11:37

2 Answers 2



There is a forum that discusses the Ontario Highway Traffic Act, and this is apparently a question that gets asked a lot. To sum up the discussion, because of O.Reg 615 of the French Language Services Act, there is a possibility that you can challenge uniligual signs in French service regions like Toronto. The reality is, Toronto never adopted the option to make all traffic signs bilingual. Quoting someone who posted in the forum who tried to challenge a sign without french and lost the case:

"...the prosecutor argued that City of Toronto never approval or adopted this bilingual option. He further mentioned that the City has appealed and won the case from the superior court."

From the Highway Traffic Act:

52. A municipality situated in an area designated by the French Language Services Act is not required to comply with the sign requirements for such areas unless it (Municipality) has passed a by-law under section 14 of that Act.

So the answer appears to be yes, you have to obey English-only signs in Toronto. You may be able to challenge signs in other areas of Ontario, but only if a municipality has passed a by-law under section 14 of the French Language Services Act.

Yes, you have to obey all posted signs. Depending on the region, you could make an argument that the sign must be updated to include french, but it is unlikely you could argue that you were not required to obey it in most places.

Canada is bilingual at the federal level, so all federal services must make their signs bilingual, but the provinces of Canada are not all bilingual. The laws will change from province to province, Quebec for example is technically unilingual French, so they are not required to put english on their signs, but regardless of which province you are in, you must obey all posted signs.

There are a number of provinces that are unilingual English, I grew up in British Columbia, there aren't any French or bilingual signs out here except for in National Parks and on government buildings. I couldn't carry a conversation in French if my life depended on it, not many people out here could, and the ones that can mostly moved here from Quebec.

Ontario has the French Language Services Act, which requires all government services (not just federal) to be offered in french if the francophone population meets a certain threshold. The areas in blue in the image below represent areas that provide french services, the dark blue indicates that the entire region is required to offer french services, the light blue indicate areas that have communities that offer french services.

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Toronto is a designated french services municipality, so technically, the sign probably should be bilingual, but the fact that it is not does not give you justification to break the law. Like I already said, you could file a complaint and have the city update the sign, but you're not likely to get away with a traffic violation based on the fact that the sign wasn't bilingual.

  • I'm not even sure they legally have to have bilingual signs -- the case I linked quotes an Ontario law saying that road signs apparently don't need to be bilingual unless a city passed a bylaw under section 14 of the French Language Services Act.
    – cpast
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 3:17
  • I don't understand this answer at all. What do you mean that the sign "should" be bilingual, but that it "does not" give one a justification to not follow it? The sign is either legal or it's not; if it's not legal, it doesn't legally have to be followed.
    – cnst
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 22:40
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    @cnst - See my edited answer, Toronto does not have a by-law that requires their traffic signs to be french. People have tried to challenge english signs as "illegal" and lost.
    – ShemSeger
    Commented May 28, 2015 at 0:01

Yes, you pretty much have to. While one person convinced one Justice of the Peace that the English-only signs were invalid in 2004 (and then pled guilty on appeal), in 2011 an attempt to argue that the signs were invalid was rejected by lower courts, and the Ontario Court of Appeal refused to hear that case while commenting that they considered the 2004 decision to be incorrect (R. v. Petruzzo). While refusing to hear an appeal doesn't create binding precedent that the English-only signs are OK, it means that you're unlikely to succeed in your argument that they aren't allowed.

  • Well, for what it's worth, it seems like in this newer case, the issue of the sign being illegal was not brought up prior to the appeal, so, it's not much surprise that the appeal has been denied, as stuff like that must have been brought up in the original trial in order to be considered at appeal (at least, according to my prosumer knowledge of the law in California). Where did you get the information that the original 2004 person plead guilty on appeal? I only recall that they won all across.
    – cnst
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 22:44
  • @cnst They didn't say "it wasn't brought up so can't be appealed." They said "the other court was wrong, because the law does not require a bilingual sign."
    – cpast
    Commented May 27, 2015 at 22:57

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