The province of Québec recently sought to modernize its Charter of the French Language (the “Charter“), a piece of legislation many Quebecers still call “Bill 101” to this day. After partially amending this statute in 2019, the Québec government overhauled it earlier this month, by adopting Bill 96. Through this bill, Québec is expanding the obligations imposed on organizations and businesses, to use French whenever (and however) interacting with residents of the province.
Though I don’t want to get into all the details this morning, it seems worthwhile to provide you with an overview of the kinds of changes this new version of the Charter brings us, so here it is so as to provide you with an idea of what we’re now facing:
- A general obligation that all organizations serve their clients in French, by providing them with any and all documents and documentation in French, as the case may be;
- A major change of the rule as to the display of non-French trademarks, by doing away with the exception relating to the common law trademarks. From now on, only common law trademarks composed solely of French words will be tolerated under the Charter, while the rest of trademarks used in Québec will have to be actually registered to pass muster;
- Reinforcement of the provisions relating to public display of trademarks (e.g. signage) by now requiring that the overall appearance provide substantially more space to French, as compared to other languages such as English (i.e. store fronts should show about twice as much content in French than other languages, not taking into account the trademark);
- Introduction of a new rule stating that adhesion contracts must now be available in French as a condition of validity for the contracts that are actually entered into by Quebecers, I including but not limited to those for consumers;
- Lowering from 50 employees to 25, the threshold above which organizations must adopt and apply a francization program;
- Adoption of stricter rules as to job postings in French and when an organization may require that job applicants have language skills unrelated to French;
- Addition of a new rule that all written documents and documentation provided by employers to their employees systematically be in French.
It also seems worthwhile to mention that Bill 96 also adds a very American twist to the Charter, by introducing a private right of action. Once in force, this will allow individuals to sue businesses that violate the Charter, so as to obtain either injunctions or (and yes, this is what’s going to have business owners pay attention) damages and punitive damages. As if often the case whenever such rights are introduced in a piece of legislation, class actions will be the first type of proceedings we can expect them to be used for.
I should mention, finally, that most changes outlined above will not come into effect for 3 years, so as to provide businesses with a transition period during which they can bring their organizations in line with the new rules. So, June 1st, 2025 is the deadline you should remember, to update all your practices and your way of doing things in Québec. Mark your calendars!
So, is your organization in-line with all this? Probably not. If it is not, then you now have less than 3 years to do your homework!