Doing business in Quebec is about to become more expensive. Bill 96, an amendment to Quebec’s language law, which sets French as the official language of government and commerce, is set to boost demand for language services.
The first sector affected by new language requirements is real estate. As of September 1, 2022, transactional documents related to things such as land registers now have to be drafted exclusively in French.
Next in line are materials related to commercial products. Documentation, business forms, and contracts will be impacted by Bill 96’s provisions as soon as June 2023. Contracts of adhesion (i.e., where one party establishes the rules), consumer contracts, real-estate sale contracts, and all supporting contractual documentation will also need to be drafted in French.
Moreover, from June 2025, non-French trademarks unregistered in Canada will need to be translated into French if used in Quebec. Currently, if there is no registered version of an English trademark, a French equivalent is not required. Once the law takes effect, companies found to be in violation could pay fines as high as CAD 30,000 (USD 23,000) per day. Fines could double or triple for repeat offenders.
Bill 96 also includes new detailed provisions for translation of product labels and packaging. The French text will need to have the same size and appearance as other languages. French versions of product marketing assets and documentation should also be available in the same formats as other languages.
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A product document or any online content found only in English could constitute a violation of the law. In fact, product support materials should only be available and accessible in other languages if they already exist in French.
French should also be the predominant language on signage and advertising as well as online content. This means that the text should be double the size of text in other languages and stand out against other design elements.
Under the Charter of the French Language, Chapter II, Fundamental Language Rights, “consumers of goods and services have a right to be informed and served in French.” This verbiage is the foundation for many of Bill 96’s requirements for consumer products. Other requirements impact employee relations and commercial activities.
Although legal challenges are expected, companies doing business in Quebec will do well to register trademarks in the province and allocate higher budgets for translation.