The Quebec Charter of the French Language (the “Charter”) was adopted nearly 50 years ago to protect the status of the French language in the province of Quebec. It includes many rules, several of them directed at the language of business in Quebec, and some regarding the use of French on both product packaging and signage/advertising.
Presently, all product labelling and commercial signs appearing in Quebec must be in French – but the Charter provides certain exceptions for trademarks.
Amendments to the Charter are expected to come into force on June 1, 2025. Those amendments will significantly restrict those trademark exceptions and have other important consequences for trademark and business owners operating in Quebec.
As of June 1, 2025, unless a trademark appearing on a product, on a storefront or in commercial advertising is registered in Canada, a French version of that mark will have to appear. Furthermore, if the French version of the trademark has been applied for or registered in Canada, that French version will also have to appear.
The Canadian Trademarks Office is experiencing significant delays and it is difficult to obtain a registration in less than 3 years. This is likely why Draft Regulations issued on January 10, 2024, expanded the scope of “registered trademark” to include trademarks for which an application is pending before the Trademarks Office. This provides some breathing room for brand owners, but they should nonetheless start preparing well ahead of the June 1, 2025 deadline.
This is in part because the changes to the Charter will also affect how brand owners display their mark and their business name on products, storefronts and commercial advertising.
For example, if a non-French trademark appears on a product, storefront or commercial advertising, that product or signage will also have to include a “markedly predominant” generic term or description, in French, to identify the product or service in question. That French text will have to be twice as large as the other text and otherwise have a more important visual impact.
Also, for signage that identifies the business with an expression other than French, including a registered trademark, and that can be seen from outside the business, that signage must include a “markedly predominant” generic term or description to identify the business.
In most cases, the generic term/description appearing in French will be smaller than the trademark, and business owners will need to work at changing their signage and labelling ahead of the June 1, 2025 deadline.
The changes to the Charter will affect the language in which content appears on websites and social media accounts, and in brochures, catalogues and similar commercial publications.
The Quebec version of those materials does not have to have the same content as that for other provinces, but the Quebec version, in French, must be made available under conditions that are at least as favourable as those available in other languages.
After June 1, 2025, businesses that fail to comply with the requirements of the Charter expose themselves to sanctions ranging between $3,000 to $30,000. Fines for second offences are doubled and thereafter tripled. Significantly, every day of non-compliance is considered to be a separate offence.