News Alert: Quebec to Bolster French Language Requirements

May 13, 2021
By Brigitte Chan, François Larose and William Audet

Bill 96 was tabled today by the Government of Quebec proposing sweeping revisions to the Quebec’s Charter of the French Language. Amongst changes to bolster the use of French in education, commerce and workplaces, the 100+ page Bill includes significant changes to the trademark exception for commercial signage commonly relied upon by businesses to use English trademarks without translation. 

The trademark exception, currently found in regulations, will be integrated within the Charter itself. The exception now provides that a trademark can be in a language other than French if it is a “recognized” trademark (which has been confirmed by courts to include both registered and unregistered marks), unless a French version has been “registered”. The proposed amendment will provide that a trademark used on public signage can be in another language only if it is a registered mark under the Trademarks Act and no French version is found on the Trademarks Register. While under the Trademarks Act the Register contains only registered marks, it is unclear why the Bill refers to two different expressions (“registered” vs. “found on the Trademarks Register”) and if this means that a non-registered (e.g. pending or even abandoned) trademark in French could preclude reliance on the trademark exception. The Bill confirms the current rules related to store-front signage in that French has to be clearly predominant if it includes a mark in another language than French. Proposed amendments also contemplate neutrality of medium of commercial publication to capture online publications and adds a prohibition to make available commercial publication, invoices, receipts and other similar documents, in another language if the French version is not available under the same or better conditions.

Other notable proposed amendments relate to enforcement by introducing new legal remedies. According to the Bill, the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) will be able to request an injunction to force compliance with the Charter whereas the current law provides only for fines and withdrawal of a "francization certificate", if applicable. Fines will also increase to a range of $700 to $7,000 for individuals, and $3,000 to $30,000 for businesses. Fines will double with a first recurring violation, and triple for any further recurrences. Each day of non-compliance will be considered a distinct violation. Furthermore, the OQLF will be able to request that the court order the withdrawal or destruction within 8 days of signs, ads, billboards and illuminated signs that are not in compliance with the Charter, at the cost of the owner of the advertising material or whoever installed it.

Within hours of having been tabled, Bill 96 is receiving a mixed reaction across the province of Quebec but confirms the Quebec government’s initiatives to improve the use of the French language across its province. For more information, please contact us.

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