LANGUAGE REQUIREMENTS IN QUÉBEC: A FEW CLARIFICATIONS ON THE NEW RULES OF THE GAME

2024-01-18

Catherine Bergeron and Caroline Jonnaert *
ROBIC
LAWYERS, PATENT AND TRADEMARK AGENTS

On January 10th, the Quebec government published a draft regulation entitled Regulation to amend mainly the Regulation respecting the language of commerce and business[1] (the “Draft Regulation”). The Draft Regulation clarifies recent amendments made to the Charter of the French Language (the “Charter”)[2] by the Act respecting French, the official and common language of Québec[3] (“Bill 96”). Here is an overview of the highlights of the Draft Regulation.

Products Inscriptions

  • Charter requirements. Generally, all inscriptions on a product, its container, wrapping or related documents or objects must be written in French[4]. There are several exceptions to this rule, including that a “registered trademark” within the meaning of the Trademarks Act[5] (the “TMA”) may be drafted, even partially, exclusively in a language other than French, where no corresponding French version appears in the register kept according to TMA[6]. However, if a generic term or description of a product is included in the trademark, then it must appear in French “on the product or on a medium permanently attached to the product”[7].
  • Amendments introduced by the Draft Regulation. The Draft Regulation defines the terms “generic” and “description” (referring respectively to the nature and characteristics of a product) and specifies that the term “product” includes the container or wrapping of the product, as well as any document or object supplied with the product. The Draft Regulation also specifies that no generic term or description included in a non-French trademark may be given greater prominence than that in French or be available on more favourable terms. It is worth noting that the Draft Regulation also broadens the scope of the “registered trademark” exception for product inscriptions to include not only registered trademarks, but also trademarks for which an application is pending in Canada. However, this broadening of the scope of “registered trademark” applies only to the rules governing inscriptions on products. Finally, the Draft Regulation provides for a transition period until June 1st 2027, during which it will be deemed that companies comply with these product inscription requirements, but only for products manufactured before June 1st 2025.

Public Signage and Commercial Advertising

  • Charter requirements. Generally, public signage and commercial advertising in Quebec must be in French[8]. Another language may also be used in addition to French, provided that French is “markedly predominant”[9]. The Charter does, however, provide an exception for “registered trademarks” within the meaning of the TMA, so that these may appear, even partially, exclusively in another language than French, provided that no corresponding French version is found in the trademark register[10]. However, as of June 1st 2025, French must be marked predominantly on public signage and posters visible from outside premises, when a trademark registered under the TMA appears in a language other than French[11]. This new rule will replace the requirement of the “sufficient presence of French”. The Regulation defining the scope of the expression “markedly predominant” for the purposes of the Charter of the French language[12] had been adopted to provide further guidance on the “markedly predominant” requirement.
  • Amendments introduced by the Draft Regulation. The Draft Regulation replaces the “sufficient presence of French” requirement and clarifies the scope of requirements applicable to public signage and posters, including those visible from outside premises. In addition, it repeals the Regulation defining the scope of the expression “markedly predominant” for the purposes of the Charter of the French language and provides guidelines for complying with the requirement of “markedly predominant”. On the other hand, the Draft Regulation does not broaden the scope of the notion of “registered trademark”; as a result, only registered trademarks will be able to benefit from the exception applicable to public signage and posters.

Commercial Documents

  • Charter requirements. According to the Charter, “commercial documents” must be drawn up in French[13]. A commercial document may also be drawn up in both French and another language, provided that the French version is made available under conditions that are at least as favorable[14]. According to the Charter, the commercial documentation covered by these rules includes “catalogs, brochures, folders, commercial directories, order forms and any other documents of the same nature that are available to the public”[15]. Unlike inscriptions on products, public signage and commercial advertising, the Charter makes no exception for “registered trademarks” used in commercial documents.
  • Clarification of the Draft Regulation. The Draft Regulation specifies that social media and websites are considered commercial documents for the purposes of the Charter[16]. This clarification crystallizes the administrative position of the Office québécois de la langue française (the “OQLF”) on this matter.

Adhesion Contracts

  • Charter requirements. Under the new provisions of the Charter as amended by Bill 96, a contract of adhesion and its related documents must be drawn up in French[17]. The parties to such a contract may, however, be bound by its version in a language other than French if, “after its French version has been remitted to the adhering party, such is their express wish”[18]. In such case, the “documents related to the contract” may then be drawn up exclusively in that other language.
  • Amendments introduced by the Draft Regulation. The Draft Regulation clarifies that a “document related” to a contract of adhesion includes any document: (i) attesting to the existence of the contract, such as an insurance certificate, (ii) whose attachment to the contract is required by law, such as a termination or resolution form, or (iii) that otherwise constitutes an ancillary document to the contract[19]. The Draft Regulation also specifies cases where the obligation to provide a French version of an adhesion contract entered into by telephone is satisfied[20]. Finally, it states that the obligation to deliver a French version of an adhesion contract concluded online will be satisfied by giving the adhering party the applicable standard clauses in French[21] .

The Draft Regulation has been subject to a 45-day consultation period since January 10th. During this period, any person may submit comments to the Minister of the French Language. The Draft Regulation may therefore be amended. In the meantime, if you have any questions about Charter requirements, please do not hesitate to contact the members of our Trademarks and Advertising and Marketing Law teams.


* © CIPS, 2024. Catherine Bergeron and Caroline Jonnaert are lawyers, trademark agents and directors at ROBIC. They would like to thank Ioana Gurau-Budeci for her contribution to this article.

[1] Regulation to amend mainly the Regulation respecting the language of commerce and business R.L.R.Q, c. C-11, c. 9, (draft), (2024) 2 G.Q. II, 217 (the “Draft Regulation”).
[2] Charter of the French Language, C.Q.L.R. 1977, c. C-11 (the “Charter”).
[3]  An Act respecting French, the official and common language of Québec, S. Q. 2022, c 14 (“Bill 96”).
[4]  Charter, art. 51.
[5]  Trademarks Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. T-13.
[6]  Charter, art. 51.1.
[7]  Id.
[8]  Charter, art. 58.
[9]  Id.
[10]  Charter, art. 58.1.
[11]  Id.
[12]  Regulation defining the scope of the expression “markedly predominant” for the purposes of the Charter of the French language, C.Q.L.R. c. C-11, r.11.
[13]  Charter, art. 52.
[14]  Id.
[15]  Id.
[16]  Draft regulation, art. 9.
[17]  Charter, art. 55.
[18]  Id.
[19]  Draft regulation, art. 9.
[20]  Id.
[21]  Id.