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Legal Guide


The official language in Quebec is French. The Charter of the French Language (“Charter”) guarantees French language rights and requires the use of French in many business situations. Given the broad scope of the Charter, this analysis will only touch upon some of the Charter’s highlights and is not intended to be exhaustive. Since there could be a language component in any Quebec business transaction, each such transaction merits an analysis of the Charter’s impact. Most of the Charter’s provisions are of public order. However, the Charter also provides certain exceptions to its general application.

Contracts

Contracts pre-determined by one party and standard printed form contracts, must be drafted in French. However, they may be in another language exclusively at the express request of the parties (usually a clause written into the contract, except under certain specific circumstances). Thus, standard forms, such as purchase orders and printed leases, must be in French, unless the parties have expressly requested that the contract be written in another language.

Consumer contracts are governed by both the Consumer Protection Act (“CPA”) and the Charter and, by virtue of the CPA, must be drawn up in French. However, they may be drawn up in another language if the parties expressly agree. Where consumer contracts are drawn up in French and in another language, and there is a divergence between the texts, the interpretation more favorable to the consumer prevails.

Labour relations and collective agreements

Collective agreements, including annexes and schedules to those agreements, must be in French. An English version of the agreement is permitted (see “Francization of business” below).

Catalogues and brochures

As a general rule, catalogues, brochures, folders, commercial directories, and any similar written publications, including websites, where the firm carries on business in the Province of Quebec, must be in French. Such documents may also be bilingual or they may be in two separate versions, one exclusively in French and the other exclusively in another language, provided that the French version is available under no less favorable conditions of accessibility and quality than the version in the other language. It should be noted that the version exclusively in another language may be inserted in a news publication published exclusively in that language.

Computer software

All computer software, including games software and operating systems, whether installed or offered separately, must be available in French, unless no French version exists. Software can also be available in languages other than French; provided the French version is available on no less favorable terms and that it has technical characteristics that are at least equivalent to the English version.

Product labelling

Every inscription on a product (on its container or its wrapping), and all documents that accompany a product (including warranties, directions for use, etc.), must be in French. The French inscription may be accompanied by a translation or translations, provided that an inscription in another language is not given greater prominence than the French text. Exceptionally, there are situations where product labels and the documents accompanying a product do not have to be in French. For example, inscriptions relating to products intended for a market outside Quebec, do not have to be in French; neither do the inscriptions relating to a publication, book, record, tape, film or any other similar cultural or educational product, to the extent that such inscriptions are written in the language of the product or to the extent that the product has no language content. Other exceptions are set out in the relevant regulations.

Public signs and posters and commercial advertising

As a general rule, most public signs and posters may be both in French and in another language, provided that French is “markedly predominant”, an expression defined by regulation.

There are two circumstances provided by regulation in which commercial advertising must be exclusively in French. Commercial advertising displayed on billboards, signs or posters of 16 square meters or more, and visible from any public highway (unless the advertising is displayed on the very premises of an establishment of the firm), and commercial advertising on or in any public means of transportation, and on or in accesses thereto, must be exclusively in French.

Registered trade-marks

Registered trade-marks within the meaning of the Trade-marks Act may be used in Quebec as registered in catalogues and brochures, on product labels, public signs and posters, and in commercial advertising, unless a French version of the trade-mark has been registered, in which case the French version must be used.

Company names

In order to incorporate a company under the Companies Act (Quebec), a French corporate name is required. An English name may be used in addition to the French name, but an English name not accompanied by its French equivalent is not acceptable.

Every partnership and legal person carrying on an activity in Quebec must register in accordance with
An Act respecting the legal publicity of sole proprietorships, partnerships and legal persons. Every registrant whose name is in a language other than French, must declare either a French version of the name or a French business name to be used in carrying on activities in Quebec.

Under the Charter, the name of an enterprise must be in French, but it may be accompanied with a version in another language, provided that the French version appears at least as prominently. However, on public signs and posters, and in commercial advertising, the use of a version of a name in a language other than French is permitted to the extent that the other language may be used in such public signs and posters, or in such advertising, pursuant to the applicable regulation. In addition, in texts and documents drafted only in a language other than French, a firm name may appear exclusively in the other language.

Francization of business

A firm which employs fifty persons or more for a period of six months must register with the Office Québécois de la langue française (“Office”). If the Office considers that the use of French in the firm is generalized at all levels of the firm (for example, written communications between employer and employees in French, and new positions and promotions are offered in French), the Office will issue a “francization certificate”. If the Office does not issue a certificate, it will notify the firm that it must adopt a francization program.

The implementation of francization programs in head offices and research centers, may be the subject of special agreements with the Office to allow the use of a language, other than French, as the language of operation.

For those firms employing one hundred or more persons, a francization committee composed of six or more persons, must be formed. The francization committee is responsible for the monitoring of the firm’s language situation, as well as devising and implementing the firm’s francization program, and ensuring that the use of French remains generalized at all levels of the firm.

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