Interpreting the Charter of the French language (the Charter) can sometimes be a problem for franchisors who wish to advertise their products in the Province of Québec. The Charter provides Québec residents some fundamental rights: to have all corporate entities doing business in Québec conduct their business in French; to be informed in French; and to be served in French. The implication here is that a franchisor who is not doing business in Québec will not be required to provide these fundamental rights, but franchisors doing business in Québec will be subject to providing these rights. The following article considers French language requirements as they relate to franchisees or franchisors if they are doing or deemed to be doing business in Québec.
- The general rule is that any type of advertisement, including catalogues, brochures, folders, commercial directories and any similar publications, must be available in French. Advertising material may however be accompanied with text drafted in another language, as long as French is given equal prominence and the French version is available under “no less favourable conditions of accessibility and quality.”
- A business entity can distribute both versions of an advertising publication simultaneously or provide either version only upon request. However, a business entity cannot provide customers the version containing language other than French with a note inviting them to request a French version if they wish.
Websites and electronic media
- The Office of the French language (OFL), established by the provincial authorities to oversee the use of French in commerce and business, has taken the position that commercial advertising posted on a website, as well as advertising material sent by fax or electronic mail, falls within the scope of the Charter. This means that a French translation of such advertising material must be provided to francophone consumers, unless specifically exempted by regulation.
- However, according OFL policy, the Charter applies only to advertising content posted on websites by business entities having a head office, a place of business or an address in Québec for products available on the Québec market. Therefore, a franchisor with no place of business or address in Québec may display a web page in a language other than French without violating the Charter even if its products are intended for consumers located in Québec. The opposite is also true: the Charter does not apply to a franchisor having a place of business in Québec and whose products are intended exclusively for a market outside Québec. In that case, neither the packaging or the website requires translation in French.
- All products intended for the Québec market must be labelled in French or be bilingual, providing that the other language is of no greater prominence than the French version. The requirement applies to all aspects of the product labelling: namely the inscription on the product itself; its container; its wrapping; and any document or object supplied with it, including instructions, warranty certificates, leaflets, etc. It is prohibited for a business entity to insert a notice proposing to provide documentation in French upon request only.
- The product name must be in French unless it is a recognized trademark which may appear solely in a language other than French. However, if a French version of the product name has been registered, the French name must be used.
- There are other exceptions - inscriptions on a product can be labelled exclusively in a language other than French. Examples include: the name of a business entity established exclusively outside Québec; a name of origin; the denomination of an exotic product or foreign specialty; a non-commercial motto; a place name designating a place situated outside Québec; a family name; a given name; the name of a personality or character; or a distinctive name of a cultural nature.
- The OFL follows up on complaints received from the public with respect to possible language violations and the practice is to adopt a conciliatory approach with business entities violating the Charter. The OFL first provides the offending corporation with a notice and an opportunity to comply with the Charter before imposing penalties. If the conciliatory approach fails, the OFL serves an enforcement notice. If this does not produce any results, the OFL forwards the case to the director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions who ultimately decides whether to bring charges against the offender.
- The Charter provides that any corporation contravening a provision of the Charter or the regulations is liable for each offence to a fine of up to $500 to $1,400 for a first offence and to a fine of up to $7,000 for any subsequent convictions. Liability is extended to persons contravening certain provisions of the Charter.