Parlez-Vous Francais? Recent amendments to Quebec’s Charter of the French Language may impact Atlantic Canadian businesses
By: David F. Slipp and Levi Parsche
In May 2022, Bill 96 was adopted by Quebec’s National Assembly, significantly amending the Charter of the French Language (the “Charter“). The amendments create new requirements for using French in commerce, education, marketing/advertising, contracting, legal proceedings, and more.
Many of the new requirements under Bill 96 came into effect on June 1, 2022 but further amendments came into force on September 1 and December 1, 2022. More amendments are set to come into effect over the next three years.
The Bill is aimed at protecting the French language in Quebec, and affirming that French is the “only official language” of the province. The Charter sets out when French must be used by a business when communicating with Quebec entities and individuals and when a “language other than French” may be used.
A summary table below briefly explains the amendments implemented through Bill 96 and their effective date.
Amendments Already in Force:
|Effective Date||Area Impacted||Summary of Change|
|June 1, 2022||Employment (employee language proficiency)||Employers in Quebec cannot require existing or future employees to have proficiency in any language other than French in order to acquire or maintain a job. This includes recruitment, hiring, transfer, and promotion processes. If a certain role requires knowledge of a non-French language, employers must demonstrate its necessity and that they did everything possible to avoid imposing this requirement.|
|June 1, 2022||Employment (employment contracts)||Employment-related documents (e.g., transfer offers, promotion paperwork, employment agreements, applications, training documents) provided by employers in Quebec must be in French. This includes communications with former employees, individual workers, all or part of the staff, and workers’ associations.
Employment contracts will also become subject to the new general contract requirements discussed below.
|June 1, 2022||Employment
|If an employer wishes to post a job posting in English, it must simultaneously post a French posting, using the same means of transmission, and reaching a target audience of comparable size.|
|June 1, 2022||Real property (purchase and exchange agreements)||Certain contracts for the sale or exchange of residential properties must now be drafted in French. Generally, agreements for the sale or exchange of residential property consisting of less than five dwellings must be drafted in French unless it is the express wish of the parties that they be drawn up in another language (may be stated in an explicit clause). This rule also applies to the related documents of the agreement.|
|June 1, 2022||Language of service||Businesses which offer goods and/or services in Quebec must inform and serve both their consumer and business clients in French. Violation of this obligation is an offence punishable by fines.
Prior to these amendments, only consumers had the right to be informed and served in French. This protection has expanded to include commercial clients/customers as well.
|June 1, 2022||Advertising & Publication||All advertising and publications intended for the public may only be available in English if the French version is available on equally, if not more favourable terms. This requirement applies regardless of the medium used, including catalogues, brochures, folders, commercial directories, order forms and any other documents of the same nature that are available to the public.|
|June 1, 2022||Packaging & Labelling||The Charter now requires that if an English translation exists or is provided for an inscription on a product, a menu, or a wine list, it must not be more prominent or be available “on more favourable terms” than the French version. Similarly, for invoices and receipts, the French terms must be “at least as favourable” as those in the English version.|
|June 1, 2022||Enforcement||The Office Québécois de la langue française (the Quebec Board of the French Language, “OQLF“) is the governmental agency in charge of enforcing the Province’s language requirements. OQLF’s powers to investigate have been expanded, allowing them to enter any location at any reasonable time, take pictures of locations and objections where inspections are being conducted, and access data relevant to the enforcement of the Charter.
Additionally, the OQLF may apply to the Quebec Court for an injunction in relation to compliance with the Charter.
|June 1, 2022||Sanctions & Penalties||Fines for noncompliance with the Charter requirements can range from $3,000 to $30,000 for a business and from $700 to $7,000 for an individual. Fines will double for a second offense and triple for ensuing offenses. Non-compliant signs or advertising can be removed at the owner’s expense.
Additionally, if noncompliance with the Charter extends for more than one day, each day of the offence constitutes a separate offence.
The Minister of the French Language may also suspend or revoke a permit or authorization granted by the Quebec government if the permit or authorization holder repeatedly contravenes the Charter.
|Sept. 1, 2022||Security Registration||All applications for registration of a security interest (such as hypothecs in the Land Register or in the Register of Personal and Movable Real Rights) must be drafted exclusively in French. All associated documents must also be in French or accompanied by a certified translation.
Further, all amendments to existing registrations must also be submitted in French.
Amendments Not Yet in Force:
|Effective Date||Area Impacted||Summary of Change|
|June 1, 2023||Contracts||Businesses will be required to present a French version of any non-negotiable or consumer contract. The parties may then decide to contract in English, but only after the non-drafting party or consumer has had the opportunity to review the French version. If the parties decide to contract in English, the related documents may also be English.
There are several types of common business contracts which are exempted from the above rule, including: loan contracts, clearing house contracts, contracts entered into on a platform for trading derivatives or securities, some insurance policies with no French-language equivalent in Quebec, and civil administration contracts “used in relations outside Quebec”.
|June 1, 2025||Trademarks
(packaging, labelling & advertising)
|Currently, an English recognized trademark may be used exclusively in English, so long as there is no French version that has been registered. Historically, a “recognized” trademark has been interpreted to be either a trademark registered under the federal Trademarks Act or a trademark recognized at common law.
Effective June 1, 2025, only trademarks that are registered under the Trademarks Act may benefit from the French trademark exemption. Therefore, non-registered trademarks will need to be translated to French on packaging, labelling, advertisements, public signage, posters, etc.
Currently, for public signage and signage visible from outside, an English-only recognized trademark must be accompanied by a “sufficient presence” of French. Effective June 1, 2025, French will need to be “markedly predominant” if there is an English-only trademark on a public sign, or if the advertising has the enterprise’s name and includes an expression in a language other than French.
This client update is provided for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. If you have any questions about the above, please contact a member of the Stewart McKelvey team.
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