On June 12, 2015, Premier Philippe Couillard announced the Québec Government’s intention to amend the province’s language legislation (the Charter of the French Language) in order to force businesses to include a French descriptive or generic term when using non-French trademarks on storefront signs. 

The Minister responsible for the protection and promotion of the French language, Hélène David, confirmed that the amendment would be introduced by regulation sometime this Fall, and would likely only come into force in early 2016, given the standard 45-day consultation period. While the specific wording and scope of the amendment is not yet known, it is expected that the amendment would require businesses to add a French slogan, generic word or description of the product or service they are marketing to their storefront signs (e.g., Les cafés Second Cup), rather than requiring them to translate their trademarks into French. No word yet on whether a transition period will be provided to allow retailers to comply with the additional obligations imposed by the amendment, or the amount of the potential fines that would be imposed for non-compliance. However, we will continue to monitor the situation carefully.  

The Government announcement comes at the heels of a Québec Court of Appeal ruling in April, which confirmed that businesses could continue to use their non-French registered trademarks on storefront signs without running afoul of the provincial rules governing the language of business. This ruling confirmed the decision rendered by the Superior Court of Québec last year, which was rendered in favour of six major retailers who had decided to challenge the language authorities’ position on the subject.  

The legislative route appears to have been favoured over an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. We invite you to look for our future bulletins and alerts for additional information relating to the proposed amendment and its impact on the retail sector. For more on the Court of Appeal’s ruling, read our bulletin dated May 21, 2015.