Québec Looking to Curtail English (and Other Languages) Trademarks Through Revised French Charter

The Québec government recently tabled a bill, called Bill 69, that seeks to amend several statutes, including the province’s Charter of the French Language, so as to better protect the French language. This bill seeks to consolidate existing rules, so as to reinforce the idea that French is the sole official language of the province of Québec, including in principle in how business is conducted.

Interestingly, as to I.P., the revised Charter would do away with an exception that legislators had inserted in the original statute, namely that trademark were generally exempted from complying with normal rules, including on store signs. Indeed, up to now, the Charter accepted that trademarks, whether registered or unregistered, were essentially outside the scope of what could be regulated by this provincial statute. As such, the OQLF could hardly enforce rules meant to force businesses to use and display French (e.g. on store signage, etc.), whenever trademarks were involved. This lead many businesses to adopt and use English-based trademarks, something that Québec courts eventually confirmed as totally acceptable under the existing Charter of the French Language.

This provides context to Bill 69’s introduction, as the Québec government is clearly now attempting to slam the door shut on that trademarks exception, to the fullest extent (legally) possible. To do, the revised version of the French Charter would essentially restrict what are considered trademarks for purposes of the exception explained above. If/when the bill goes through, the only trademarks that would remain considered protected from the obligation of being shown in French, are marks that have been duly registered, period. In effect, this would do away with trademarks displayed by businesses that did not bother or did not manage to register in Canada.

Québec cannot forbid non-French trademarks (because of the Canadian Constitution), but it can try and restrict what it will consider a trademark for the purposes of its language laws, which is exactly what this is about.

Setting aside the issue of whether legally a province may do something like this, businesses may want to start preparing for the proposed changes to the French Charter, by simply registering their marks, assuming they haven’t done so already. Though large companies will usually have done so, a lot of small and medium sized businesses do not bother registering their marks, preferring to fall back on common law rights. If those marks are in a language other than French, this may soon become a problem.

Fortunately for SMEs, registering a mark in Canada is relatively inexpensive, as compared to other jurisdictions. Businesses should however take note that typical delays are now around 3 years to register a mark in Canada. Given that the French Charter’s new provisions on trademarks will come into force 3 years after adoption of the bill, businesses the trademarks of which have not already been registered may want to get on it.

Mind you, Bill 69 has not yet been formally adopted but with a majority government in Québec at the moment, it seems to make little doubt that the bill will be adopted at some point.

Canadian Privacy Commissioner Unimpressed with Bill C-11 as it Currently Stands

The Canadian Privacy Commissioner recently voiced serious concerns with Bill C-11, a piece of legislation meant  to replace the Canadian law relating to  personal information. Though it is meant to upgrade Canadian legislation, Commissioner Therrien believes the revised law would actually lessen the protection of personal information for Canadians.

As you may remember, the Canadian Parliament tabled new bill called C-11, back in September, meant to overhaul our the Canadian personal information protection statute. This bill is currently being studied, including as changes which may be required before it should become law.

Mr. Therrien recently spoke about this bill at an online conference put together by the Option Consommateurs, where he gave us his take on C-11, namely that this bill falls short of adequately protecting Canadians.

For one thing, the Canadian Commissioner says the new law should make it harder for businesses to use obscure or vague language, when requesting consent from individuals, but it does not. Even under the new statute, businesses could continue to ask for consent using language that is unclear or not specific enough. According to him, Bill C-11 would lower the standard to apply to consents from individuals.

Not too surprisingly, the Commissioner also disagrees with the Legislator’s decision to create a new system whereby penalties would be heard by a new administrative tribunal, as opposed to the office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. He believes this new structure will only result in process that is even more cumbersome in cases of violation of the privacy protection statute.

The Commissioner also reiterated that he believes Canada should be enshrine the individuals’ rights to the protection of their personal information, for example in Constitution-like documents meant to confer on that right a charter-like protection. Sadly enough, Canada has yet to protect the righto to the protection of personal to that extent. According to the Canadian commissioner, this weakens what Canadians can expect in terms of protection from the law.

Canadian Government Angling to Control Content Placed Online, including UGC and Even Apps

As you may recall, since last fall, the Canadian government has been working toward getting its bill C-10 enacted. The bill aims to allow taxing streaming services such as Netflix. Though this may have been the initial impetus behind the introduction of the bill, we’re now seeing that C-10 may also go so far as to allow the regulation of content placed online, including user-generated content, computer games and apps of all kinds. Yes, Canada seems to have decided to shed its laissez-faire attitude toward what’s placed on the Internet.

Indeed, it would now seem that the Liberal government may be trying to broaden bill C-10 so as to grant the CRTC additional powers to regulate whatever is placed online, including (the latest twist in this little legislative soap opera), apps—yes, you read this right: apps. This story is being disseminated by Michael Geist, further to a statement seemingly made by mistake by an MP while commenting on an amendment that has yet to be formally introduced. Apparently, the government may be in the process of making changes to C-10 that would allow the CRTC to regulate not only streaming services, but also some content itself, such as apps made available on the Internet.

Though the government stated it did not intend to try and regulate computer games, it now appears C-10 may, on the contrary, end up allowing the CRTC to regulate software made available through the Internet, a prospect that has many cringing.

From a bill initially justified as a way to simply allow the taxation of streaming services (such as Netflix) in Canada (to level the playing field vs. other ways of making content available to Canadians), we’re now faced with a bill that seems to be transmogrifying into a bill meant to empower the government (through the CRTC) to control what is placed or made available by and to Canadians online. This may end up being extended and/or applied to computer games, content placed on social networks, blog posts, podcasts, etc. Hmm, so much for the CRTC’s 2000 position that it wouldn’t mess with the Internet.

Is it just me or are we faced with a slight drift in the federal government’s recent efforts to try and better control the Internet in Canada? Hmmm—to be continued, unfortunately.