Following a well-publicized debate, on May 24, 2022, the National Assembly of Québec finally passed the Act respecting French, the official and common language of Québec (Bill 96), a major reform of the 1977 Charter of the French Language (the Charter, also known as Bill 101). The Charter sets out language requirements for product packaging, public signs and commercial advertising in Québec. The adopted amendments aim, among other things, to reinforce the French language’s predominance. This reform could affect your use of trademarks (registered or not) on your packaging, advertising and public signs.
Bill 96 also strengthens the remedial powers of the Office québécois de la langue française, allowing it to impose higher fines, issue orders in cases of non-compliance and seek injunctions to remove or destroy non-compliant displays or advertising materials. Once assented to, Bill 96 will be phased in over the next three years.
Here is a summary of the key points to keep in mind in terms of changes to anticipate in order to adjust your branding strategy.
Packaging with non-French language labeling
- Current requirement: A product, its container or wrapping, as well as a document or object supplied with the product (e.g., instructions for use), may contain inscriptions in a language other than French as long as these inscriptions are not given greater prominence than those written in French.
- Changes effective upon Royal Assent: In addition to the current requirement, any markings in a language other than French should not be “available on more favourable terms” than those in French.
Tightening of the exception for recognized trademarks on wrapping
- Current requirement: A recognized trademark (whether registered or not) may appear on a product in a language other than French only if there is no registered French version.
- Changes coming into effect within 3 years: A trademark may appear on a product only in a language other than French if (1) it is registered and (2) there is no French version registered or applied for. In addition, if a generic term or a description of the product is included in the English version of the trademark, it must also appear in French on the product or on a medium permanently attached to it.
Tightening the exception for recognized trademarks in public signs and commercial advertising
- Current requirement: In most cases, public signage, i.e., all forms of public signage, must be in French or, if another language is used, in such a way that French is markedly predominant. This requirement is less stringent where a recognized trademark is used: it is then permissible for the mark to be displayed in a language other than French (if there is no registered French version of the same mark), provided that French maintains a sufficient presence.
- Changes coming into effect within 3 years: A trademark may only be displayed in a language other than French if (1) it is registered and (2) there is no French version registered or applied for. It is also important to note that for any public signs and posters visible from outside premises, the French language must be markedly predominant (i.e., at least twice as large).
Predominance of French in public signs of enterprise names
- Current requirement: The name of an enterprise may be accompanied with a version in a language other than French provided that, when it is used, the French version of the name appears at least as prominently.
- Changes coming into effect within 3 years: If public signs visible from outside premises include an expression from a language other than French, the French language must be “markedly predominant” on that sign (i.e., at least twice as large).
Special thanks to Leilah Bruneau Da Costa for her assistance with this article.
 Bill 96, s. 113.
 Charter, s. 51.
 Bill 96, s. 42.
 Regulation respecting the language of commerce and business, s. 7(4).
 Bill 96, s. 42.1 (adopted in parliamentary committee).
 Charter, s. 58 para. 2.
 Regulation respecting the language of commerce and business, ss. 25 to 25.5.
 Bill 96, s. 47.
 Charter, s. 68 para. 1.
 Bill 96, s. 48.