Quebec approved Bill 96 to encourage French use throughout the province. Bill 96 strengthens the Charter of the French language (the Charter), which governs the use of French in commerce and business in Quebec, as well as the Civil Code of Québec (CCQ), the Consumer Protection Act (CPA), and the Charter of human rights and freedoms (CHRF). Bill 96 went into effect on June 1, 2022, with certain parts taking effect immediately and others gradually.
An Act Respecting French, the Official and Common Language of Quebec (Bill 101) adds new provisions that significantly change the Charter of the French Language. All firms that are located in Quebec or that employ people will be impacted by the reforms.
For corporate entities to continue to be in compliance, it will be essential to comprehend and apply the new laws.
The Bill also allows for legal action against companies who, to name a few instances, fail to offer customer assistance in French, provide communications in French, or post job descriptions in French. The law expands the risk of liability for enterprises that don't comply by applying to e-commerce sites operated by companies outside of Quebec that sell to inhabitants of that province.
What is the purpose of Bill 96?
The Québec government passed "An Act respecting French, the official and common language of Québec" (Bill 96) on May 13, 2021, to safeguard and promote the French language. On June 1, 2022, Bill 96 made significant charter changes.
When does Bill 96 take effect?
The adoption of Bill 96 will be phased in depending on the size of the corporation, however some provisions went into effect in June 2022.
Businesses in Quebec with 25 or more employees must comply with the Francization requirement by June 1, 2025, and must provide official documents to the Office Québécois De La Langue Française (OQLF).
How does Bill 96 affect businesses?
Both consumers and business clients in Quebec have the right to be informed and served in French by the enterprise they do business with. This includes websites, brochures, catalogs, pamphlets, call centers, etc.
Commercial products and advertising
Bill 96 requires translation of product packaging, directions, related documents, and menus.
Product packaging, and directions had to be in French until now. Menus and wine lists followed suit. A translation could accompany the French version or be published separately, but it could not be larger, proportional, or more prominent than the French text.
The Charter currently states that if a translation is available, it cannot be placed more visibly than the French version. Invoices, receipts, releases, and similar papers follow this rule.
Bill 96 restricts Québec product labelling and packaging trademarks in languages other than French.
For instance, if your product's instructions are in English but only available online in French. Perhaps the French version is tougher to obtain online than the English version. These may violate the Charter.
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SYSTRAN can be specifically customized with industry-specific language models to massively increase accuracy and enable companies to easily translate Bill 96 commercial product and advertising labeling within minutes instead of days or weeks.
Advertising and Publications
Bill 96 only enables advertisements, publications, and other public documents to be written in a language other than French if a French version is available under conditions at least equivalent to, if not better than, the other language version.
Until recently, commercial advertising and publications (such as catalogues, brochures, and folders) meant for the public, including company Websites, had to be in French but might be accompanied by copies in other languages.
The Charter now requires that an English (or other language) version must not be more accessible than the French version.
Social media, websites, and other digital platforms with public-facing commercial content must comply. Your company's advertising and publications must not disadvantage the French version.
SYSTRAN Note: Translating websites and documentation is quick and easy with SYSTRAN, and document formats are always maintained. With real-time translation, meanwhile, timely messaging like social media and other public facing commercial content can be translated in seconds and published alongside content in English or other languages.
Bill 96 confers on the Office Québécois de la langue française (the Office) a new ability to ban e-commerce in goods that are not language compliant with the Charter. This provision appears to target e-commerce platforms or online marketplaces where foreign companies, which are generally not subject to the Charter, sell products and software whose packaging or accompanying documents (such as instructions for use or a warranty certificate) do not comply with Charter requirements.
The Charter did not previously prohibit foreign corporations from selling Québec-bound products and software online. The Office only intervened when a Québec website company was founded.
The Office can now order a company that provides technological services to allow Québec residents to purchase an item that violates the Charter to stop doing so. Since foreign firms are not subject to the Charter, it is unclear how this power will be implemented.
SYSTRAN Note: NMT is one of the best translation solutions available for e-Commerce applications, mainly because of the extensive amounts of data that have to be processed. While some companies do prefer to use machine translation post editing, or MTPE, in order to ensure their marketing language is perfectly localized to specific jurisdictions, the software can also be trained (due to its AI base) to accurately translate product descriptions quite easily and process them at large scale.
Bill 96 changes non-French trademark display conditions.
Until now, a recognized non-French trademark in Canada (including unregistered common law marks) could be displayed without translation if a "sufficient presence" of French was assured through, for example, a generic term or description of the products or services.
Starting June 1, 2025, only registered trademarks can be displayed publicly or on products without translation. French must also be "markedly predominant" in public signs visible from outside.
Bill 96 changes French contract writing requirements significantly.
Contracts of adhesion, consumer contracts, and contracts with printed standard clauses were previously written in French. They may be in another language if the parties wanted. A explicit clause declaring that the parties have agreed to write the contract in English was standard procedure.
Starting June 1, 2023, "language clauses" in adhesion or consumer contracts will no longer be sufficient. French is now required for adhesion and consumer contracts and related papers. After receiving a copy of the French version, the signatory or consumer must specifically request a different language contract to be binding. Then the corresponding documents can be written in that language.
Furthermore, unless a contract of adhesion or consumer contract has been drafted in another language at the express request of the adhering party or consumer, (1) a clause drafted in a language other than French will be deemed incomprehensible, and (2) the adhering party or consumer will be presumed to be unaware of an external clause drafted in another language.
Real estate sales and security.
Bill 96 also mandates French contracts for residential property sales and exchanges.
Real estate agreements were previously written in French or English and published in government registers.
Unless the parties request otherwise, agreements for the sale or exchange of residential immovable with fewer than five dwellings and their divided or undivided components must be prepared in French.
The Civil Administration and Public Bodies
Bill 96 strengthens French as the single and exclusive language of the civil administration (government, ministries, governmental, municipal, and educational authorities, health and social services).
Civil administration contracts were previously written in French. French was required for civil administration-Québec legal entity communications. The civil administration accepted French or English documents.
Contracts with the civil administration must be written in French from June 1, 2023. Translations are not binding. The civil administration shall receive all written communications connected to the contract in French. Finally, documentation given to government agencies for permits, authorizations, subsidies, or financial aid must be in French only.
Penalties For Charter Contraventions
Bill 96 expands the Office’s inspection and inquiry capabilities. After 15 days, the Office may order the violator to comply with the Charter or discontinue the violation.
The violator must notify the Office of their compliance within the timeframe provided in the order. The Charter penalizes disobeying such an instruction.
Penal sanctions. Bill 96 also increases the potential fines for a violation of the Charter:34
- Natural persons are liable to fines of $700 to $7,000.
- Companies are liable to fines of $3,000 to $30,000.
Repeated offenses double and triple fines. Bill 96 also makes it an offence for each day an offence persists.
Administrative fines. The Minister of the French Language may suspend or cancel a company's permit after consulting with the Office if it frequently violates the Charter.
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