Quebec tightening French-language requirements for storefronts, labels

Business

Quebec business owners have about a year and a half to ensure all signs on businesses, aside from the company name, must be predominately in French. 

Also, loopholes are being closed to ensure all products sold in Quebec have descriptions in the province’s official language.

“Most of the companies won’t have any changes to make,” said Jean-François Roberge, minister of the French language.

“But it’s important that 100 per cent of businesses respect that Quebec is the only state in North America where French is the only official language.”

This update to the province’s French charter is aimed at tightening long-standing rules as part of the government’s ongoing effort to protect Quebec’s only official language, Roberge said.

While businesses are allowed to keep their names and logos in English, for example, the new rules stipulate that a description in French must take up two-thirds of the facade’s signage.

“Public signs and posters of a trademark or an enterprise’s name visible from outside premises must be accompanied at least by terms in French, such as a generic term, a description of the products or services concerned, or a slogan,” the draft regulation states in the province’s Official Gazette, published Wednesday.

In this example provided by the Quebec government, French descriptions of what is sold in the store are added to a business with an English name. (Government of Quebec)

The updated regulations also target product labelling. While most products sold in the province have French labelling, there are ways that businesses are finding loopholes in the regulations, Roberge said.

For example, he said, businesses will trademark an entire label in order to bypass the language requirement.

“It’s obvious that Quebecers should be able to read the descriptions of what they buy in French,” he said.

He said the province’s language board, the Office québécois de la langue française, saw a 155 per cent increase in complaints in the last five years.

“This is why we have to move,” he said.

French publicity
Product labels will have to have French descriptions in Quebec. While this has long been the case, the government is strengthening the regulation. (Government of Quebec)

The new regulation was published in the province’s Official Gazette. Businesses and individuals have a 45-day period to provide the ministry with written comments on the draft regulation.

The new rules go into full effect on June 1, 2025.

The province estimates compliance will cost Quebec businesses $7 million to $15 million to comply.

Despite this, Roberge said he does not expect the regulation to have a negative impact on the economy. There’s a low unemployment rate, the economy is good and businesses want to be in Quebec, he said.

However, François Vincent, the Quebec vice-president with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), said the regulation mean new costs for businesses in the province.

“It’s going to represent time and paperwork for business owners to make sure they 100 per cent respect the law,” he said.

That’s time business owners don’t have right now given the labour shortage, he said.

When walking the streets of Montreal or any other city in the province, he said, the majority of businesses are complying with existing regulations — maintaining French signage.

He said he doesn’t know if the regulations will help protect French but they will certainly cost business owners more.

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