In an interesting turn of events, the Québec Minister responsible for the application of the Charter of the French language (the Charter) has recently published in the Gazette officielle du Québec, a draft regulation that proposes to amend the “Regulation respecting the language of commerce and business” (the regulation). The proposed draft regulation aims to limit the scope of an important exception to Québec’s product labelling requirements.

Under the Charter, text on all labels, products, or documents accompanying them, must be in French. The Charter allows for bilingual product labelling, provided that no language is afforded greater importance than French. The regulation provides various exceptions to this and other product packaging and labeling rules — most notably the exception whereby information on a product may be exclusively in a language other than French provided the product comes from outside the province and the information is engraved, baked or inlaid on the product itself.

Current regulation provides that this exception does not apply to safety notices, a provision that the proposed draft regulation does not intend to change. The regulation does however propose to exclude appliances such as ovens, microwave ovens, washers, dishwashers, refrigerators and dryers from the application of the existing “baked, engraved, or inlaid” exception. Such an amendment is likely fueled by the decreased number and availability of French appliances in the province, and will no doubt have a costly impact on the electronic and household appliance industries which readily rely on this exception to circumvent the Charter’s bilingual labelling requirements. In fact, after numerous market research studies and compliance efforts, the Office québécoise de la langue française estimates that in 2009, less than 25 per cent of appliances were labelled in French, compared to 75 to 80 per cent of appliances in 1977.

Interested parties have 45 days from the draft regulation’s April 4, 2012 publication date to comment, after which the regulation may be adopted and become law 11 months after a subsequent publication in the Gazette.