New Québec French Language Storefront Signage Rules Proposed

The Québec government announced draft regulations on May 4 that will require businesses to prominently feature "a sufficient presence of French" on any public signage in which non-French trademarks appear.1

The new regulations are a response to a 2015 Court of Appeal of Québec decision in which it was determined that the use of a non-French trademark on public signage by commercial retailers did not violate the Charter of the French Language (Charter). The Court of Appeal ruled that the retailers’ use of non-French trademarks, for which no French equivalent had been registered, fell under the exception under the Charter that otherwise required French to appear on all public signs. The Court of Appeal emphasized that it is up to the government to legislate changes if a different interpretation of the existing rules is desired.

What You Need to Know

  • Under the proposed regulations, the presence of French refers to a sign or poster with: 1) a generic term or a description of the products or services concerned; 2) a slogan; or 3) any other term or indication, favouring the display of information pertaining to the products or services to the benefit of customers frequenting the site. For example, signage featuring an English trademark for a bakery business would need to include the term "boulangerie" ("bakery") next to it.
  • There is an indication that there may be an exception for names, meaning the new rules would not apply to "McDonald's" or "Tim Hortons," for example.
  • The regulations require that the French addition have permanent visibility and be in the same field of vision as the principal sign—and if the main sign is illuminated, the French addition must be illuminated as well.
  • If the proposed regulations come into force, they will apply immediately upon adoption to new signs; existing signs will have a three-year transition period. Written comments on the draft regulations can be submitted until June 18, 2016.
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    * With assistance from Manpreet Singh, articling student.

    1 The announcement of the draft regulations can be found here.

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