The Quebec government adopted the Charter of the French Language (RSQ c C-11) (the French Charter) in 1977 to protect the French language.(1) The French Charter gives the French language the status of an official language in Quebec, thus making its use mandatory in all spheres of public life in the province, including commerce and business.(2)
Generally speaking, the French Charter applies to businesses with an establishment in the province of Quebec (this includes a PO box). In certain circumstances, it also applies to businesses which sell their goods or perform their services in Quebec, without them necessarily needing to be established there.
The French language requirements for commerce and business are divided into three categories:
- inscriptions on products and accompanying documentation;
- commercial publications, such as catalogues, flyers, brochures, commercial directories, contracts, invoices, websites and social media; and
- public signs, posters and commercial advertising (this includes promotional bags, carts and employee uniforms).
Simply put, the French language must be used on products, in commercial publications and in commercial advertising. An exception to this rule is the 'recognised trademark' exception, which provides that recognised trademarks need not be translated into French unless a French version of the mark is registered.
The Office Québécois de la Langue Française (OQLF) is in charge of enforcing the French Charter and its regulations. The OQLF has the power and authority to investigate a violation of the French Charter and to refer the matter to the director of criminal and penal prosecutions who, in turn, may take action against an offender in the Court of Quebec and ultimately impose a fine.
For further information on this topic please contact Stéphanie Girard at Smart & Biggar by telephone (+1 514 954 1500) or email ([email protected]). The Smart & Biggar/Fetherstonhaugh website can be accessed at www.smart-biggar.ca.
(1) Below are links to the French Charter, as well as to its regulations outlining rules and exceptions to the language used in the spheres of commerce and business:
- Charter of the French Language;
- Regulation respecting the language of commerce and business; and
- Regulation defining the scope of the expression "markedly predominant" for the purposes of the Charter of the French language.
(2) This article is the first in a series which examines the French language requirements for commerce and business in the province of Quebec and provides practical guidance on how brand owners can navigate these requirements. The series will cover the following topics in more details, including tips and strategies:
- inscriptions on products and accompanying documentation (published 22 July 2020);
- language used in commercial publications, including websites and social media (published 2 September 2020);
- language used on public signs, posters and commercial advertising (published 11 September 2020);
- the recognised trademark exception and how to make good use of it;
- the rules governing the language of a business name; and
- the exposure for violating the French language requirements in the province of Quebec.