More than a year and a half since the Québec government enacted Bill 96, in June 2022, it turns out that putting policy into practice has been more complicated than expected.
The law is meant to promote French as the only official language in Québec by requiring businesses in the province to display French in commercial communications — public signs, posters, and commercial advertising. The bill also applies to products and product packaging.
On January 10, 2024, the government published a draft regulation to amend the existing bill.
“The revision of the regulation became necessary due to uncertainties raised by Bill 96,” François Larose and William Audet of Bereskin & Parr LLP wrote of the draft. “This anticipated regulation was expected several months ago.”
In addition to requiring the registration of non-French trademarks used on products sold in Québec, the draft also introduces an extra two-year phase-out period for non-compliant products. The deadline for product compliance is June 1, 2027, specifically for goods manufactured no later than June 1, 2025.
To be considered exempt from Bill 96 (and thereby not require an accompanying French translation) trademarks with non-English text must be registered. This exemption now also applies to those trademarks with pending applications for Canadian trademark status.
“This is a significant development for businesses and Québec consumers alike, as it means that businesses won’t have to wait for their trademark registration to be finalized before benefiting from the trademark exception,” Larose and Audet noted. “This provision helps avoid potential delays in the commercialization of new products.”
According to the authors, the draft regulation also clarifies that “product” encompasses a product’s “container, wrapping, and accompanying documents” — in other words, the bill requires more content to be translated into French than some previously thought.
An apparently “non-exhaustive” list of the French text that should be added to storefront signage to accompany a non-French trademark includes slogans as well as generic or descriptive terms of goods or services.
Perhaps the greatest impact, in terms of the volume of content, is the draft regulation’s explicit acknowledgment that “websites and social media platforms are considered commercial documents, thereby codifying the interpretation previously held by the Office of the French Language.”
Businesses are responsible for translation costs and may receive a written warning and later, “hefty fines” for noncompliance by June 2025. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business believes small businesses, with headcounts under 25, should be given more grace.
The Minister of French Language will accept comments from the public on the draft Regulation until mid-February 2024.