Prepare Yourself – Quebec’s Bill 96 Proposes Substantial Changes to French Language Laws | Dickinson wright
[co-author: Helen Schweitzer]
The Quebec government made waves by tabling Bill 96 – Act respecting French, official and common language of Quebec, May 13, 2021. The bill amends the Charter of the French language by instituting broad and important changes to the linguistic laws of Quebec. Once adopted, Bill 96 would affirm French and considerably strengthen French as the first language of commerce in Quebec.
Some changes may seem trivial at first glance, but critics warn of the dramatic impact this would have on organizations that do business with the citizens of Quebec. Some of the most influential aspects of Bill 96 are its changes to the exclusivity of trademarks and the use of French in the workplace.
What about my brand? – Substantial restrictions with limited exceptions
Under the Trademarks Act, the language laws of Quebec allowed a trademark (for example, a logo on an advertising poster) to be exclusively in another language as long as there were no versions of the mark registered in French (the exception of “recognized mark”). The courts eventually allowed businesses to display advertising posters in a language other than French, but under Bill 96 this exception is significantly reduced. For example, if a business displays a brand name in English using the current Recognized Trademark exception, it 1) needs to ensure that the trademark is “markedly predominant” in French and 2) may need to register a. updated brand.
French in the workplace
Bill 96 aims to reduce the number of job offers requiring knowledge of a language other than French by developing French language requirements for written documents and communication with employees. For example, the bill specifies that when an employer hires, he must prove that the employment requires knowledge of a language other than French if they must include it in the job description.
Under Bill 96, a business that offers goods and services to Quebec customers must respect the consumer’s right to be informed and served in French. The minister sponsoring the bill, Simon Jolin-Barrette, did his best to defend this provision by assuring the public that the common hello “Bonjour-Salut” is still acceptable.
Currently, the Provincial Charter of Quebec requires that commercial publications be offered first in French, or in French and another language. Bill 96 goes even further to include electronic publications by broadening the wording of the Charter to apply to all content, regardless of the publication medium used.
Bill 96 strengthens the requirement that another language, such as English, can only be used in trade agreements if both parties agree. However, this consent will only be valid if a French version of the agreement has been provided and revised by both parties.
What happens next?
Consultations on the bill are scheduled for fall 2021, and the National Assembly of Quebec (The National Assembly of Quebec) could amend Bill 96 through various stages of the public bill review process. Ottawa said that, for now, Quebec has the power to pass Bill 96, because Quebec cites section 45 of the 1982 law Constitution Law. Section 45 states that a province may only pass laws in its own legislature to amend its own provincial constitution, as long as this does not affect other provinces. On this basis, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is unlikely to challenge the bill despite criticism from Quebec language groups concerned about the impact of the bill.