Quebec has instituted amendments to the Charter of the French Language that impacts all companies operating in Quebec, including businesses outside of Quebec that operate e-commerce businesses that can be accessed by customers in Quebec. Some of the amendments will have significant impact on brand owners that wish to use English versions of their trademarks in Quebec and take effect of June 1, 2025. Other aspects of the amendments, for example employee relations, come into immediate effect. Bear in mind that this article only addresses amendments to the Charter. The Charter itself contains a myriad of regulations impacting how companies operate in Quebec.
What is Quebec’s Charter of French Language?
Adopted in 1977, the Charter of the French Language was enacted by the Quebec government to protect the status of the French language in Quebec, as well as the Quebecois culture.
What are the New Changes?
The changes impact several aspects of conducting business in Quebec, including customer service, employee relations and branding. As mentioned above, the changes are applicable to those businesses that have a brick and mortar presence in Quebec, as well as those that are operating outside of Quebec but their ecommerce website is available for use by Quebec-based consumers. Thus, the scope of application may be wide reaching. Below is a summary of the changes:
A) Customer Service
All businesses are required to communicate with the real and prospective customers in French. Coming into force June 1, 2023, if there is a standard form contract, the first version of the contract must be sent in French. Once reviewed, the parties can elect to have the contract drafted in another language. The same is true for invoices and receipts. Violation of this may result in the contract being deemed to be null and void.
B) Employee relations
Coming into effect June 1, 2022, there are broader requirements for businesses to communicate with their employees in French, as well as to publishing jobs in French and limiting the requirement to speak any language other than French as part of the job description. Based on a lowered threshold, thousands of businesses operating in Quebec may not be subject to the “francization” of their businesses. However, this does not come into effect until June 1, 2025.
The treatment of branding varies depending on external and internal branding and marketing. Coming into effect on June 1, 2025, if a product is sold in Quebec, the trademark can be displayed on a product solely in a language other than French, or with a French version only if:
· The trademark is registered in Canada; and
· The French version of the trademark has not also been registered in Canada.
If the brand owner complies with these requirements, the English version of the registered trademark will not need to be translated into French, as long as the French version of the trademark is not registered. However, if the English version of the trademark includes a generic or descriptive component, that component must be translated into French. As a further complication, the Quebec government does not provide clarity as to what can be classified as a generic or descriptive term.
Externally, the French translation generic term or description of the products or services must be displayed if they are visible from outside of the premises.
The amendments also address language requirements packaging, promotional materials and documents supplied with the products.
What Happens if you do not Comply?
Language rights are a politicized issue in Quebec. Non-compliance with the Charter of French Language can trigger a swift blow in the court of public opinion, which can sway consumer behaviour. In addition, the amendments allow a private right of action for Quebec residents to seek damages and injunctive relief for violations of the Charter. Above that, the Quebec government can issue fines and revocations of provincial permits, which could significantly impact the operation of the business.
What Can you do to Prepare?
There are several different sunrise periods to the amendments that impact different aspects of your business operations in Quebec. Thus, understanding the changes, their timelines, their applications to your business and structuring your internal and external business operations to adhere is important. Moreover, given that the amendments to the Quebec Charter will be phased in in 2025, you would be well advised to pre-emptively secure trademark registrations for all of your non-French trademarks as soon as possible. Bear in mind that the Trademarks Office is painfully slow and obtaining trademark registrations in Canada may take at least 2 to 3 years. Thus, you would be well advised to start the process as soon as possible. In limited circumstances, it is possible to expedite examination of the trademark application, which can speed up the registration process.
If you need assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us at Froese Law.