On June 1, 2022, Bill 96, an act passed by the Québec legislature, became law. In general, Bill 96 broadens French language requirements, affecting many aspects of commercial, governmental, and public life in Québec. Sanctions for non-compliance can include fines ranging up to $7,000 per day for individuals and up to $30,000 per day for entities, with increased fines for repeat offenders.
Bill 96’s new requirements include the following:
- Smaller businesses (25 employees or more), previously exempt from French-language requirements applied to larger businesses, will now have to use French in their workplaces and all aspects of their businesses.
- All businesses must offer services to consumers in French and, in cases where contracts are used, provide contracting parties with French copies of the documents.
- All government contracts must now be drafted in French.
- Contracts not written in French may be nullified by the courts.
- Exterior signage displayed by businesses, and product inscriptions, must be in French with the French words appearing more prominently than any translation.
Bill 96 will also impact trademarks in Québec, specifically trademarks not in French. Going forward, non-French trademarks can only be used on products or signage if the trademark is registered with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) under the nationwide Trademarks Act and there is no corresponding French version of the trademark in the Canadian trademark register. For trademarks that do not meet these criteria, the non-French trademark must be accompanied by a more prominently-displayed French version.
Moreover, Bill 96 requires that non-French generic or descriptive terms contained in a registered trademark be translated into French. For trademarks appearing on signage, Bill 96 provides that if the signage is visible to the public from outside a business’s premises, a French translation must appear more prominently than the non-French trademark even if the non-French trademark is registered with CIPO and even if the trademark is the business’s name. Thus, even non-French trademarks duly registered with CIPO may need to be altered or accompanied by French text when displayed in Québec.
With respect to many of Bill 96’s provisions, including the trademark provisions, businesses operating in Québec have until June 1, 2025, to bring themselves into full compliance. Businesses operating in Québec should review the new law closely and begin making any changes necessary to comply with the law promptly.