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Quebec’s French Language Bill: English-Based Direct Sellers Take Notice!

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Quebec’s controversial Bill 96, officially titled “An Act respecting French, the official and common language of Quebec” (“Act”), was passed in 2022. Bill 96 amends the Charter of the French Language (“Charter”) to try and ensure that French remains the predominant language in commercial activities within Quebec. Practically speaking, Bill 96 has made things extremely complicated for any English-based Canadian or US business trying to operate in Quebec, including both Canadian and US Direct Sellers.

How the Act Affects Businesses

Among other things, Bill 96 has introduced new regulations regarding the use of French in various domains, including businesses, publications and marketing. Some of the linguistic measures that were introduced or amended by the Act, that will be expected to impact Direct Sellers operating in Quebec are as follows:

  • Francization Program: “Francization” is meant to generalize the use of French at all levels of a business. Now all businesses in Quebec with over 25 employees are obliged to enforce this program.
  • Customer Communications: Businesses that provide goods or services In Quebec must now offer them in French to customers.
  • Employees: Businesses have to communicate with Quebec employees in French.
  • Contracts: Contracts between a business and public agencies or private entities must be executed in French, with few exceptions.

Penalties & Enforcement

Non-compliance with Bill 96 will be costly, with fines of up to $30,000 for an offence under Charter 205. The offences include, among others, violating Charter 177 orders passed by the Office québécois de la langue française (the public institution in Quebec that enforces the everyday use of the French language) to enforce rules on using French in: inscriptions on products, their containers or wrappings (51), catalogues, brochures (52), and computer and game software (52.1). According to Bill 96, there will be doubled or tripled penalties for subsequent offences.    

2024 Draft Regulations

Quebec’s new draft regulations were released in January 2024 and contain proposals that will impact labeling, advertising and signage, and information published on websites. According to the draft regulations, the estimated cost to comply with the new proposals will be between 7 to 15 million dollars!

I.E. Canada (an organization representing Canadian importers and exporters) has issued an advisory (“Advisory”) to warn its members that the use of any inscription other than French on complex articles will be prohibited in Quebec, 15 days after the final publication of the draft regulations. To view the Advisory, click here.

Bottom Line

US and Canadian Direct Sellers will need to brush up on their French if they want to venture into (or continue in) the Quebec market, because the Bill 96 and its attendant regulations have made it clear that English-based Direct Sellers will find it difficult to survive in Quebec unless they convert their operations to French!

If they haven’t already done so, Direct Sellers should begin marshaling up the changes that will be required. The time to comply is effectively “now”! So, it is now or never for English-based businesses, or as they say in French, c'est maintenant ou jamais!

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