In this article, we'll explain Quebec's language rules and how they apply to promotional contests, which are called 'publicity contests' in Quebec. For an overview of the rules for publicity contests in Quebec, see our article Publicity Contests in Quebec.
Quebec's language requirement
Quebec's Charter of the French Language (the "Charter") requires that publicity contests in Quebec are available in French. If you do not have an establishment in Quebec, however, the Quebec government currently takes the position that businesses that are only available in Quebec through websites and social media, with no other presence in the province, are not subject to the Charter. In addition, the Quebec government makes some exceptions to the Charter's requirements applicable to public health and safety, culture and educational products and activities, non-French media and certain not-for-profit organizations. We describe the rule and exceptions in further detail below.
What needs to be in French
Generally, all of the information in your publicity contest must be in French. If you're established in Quebec, these are among the rules that apply to your business:
- You must have a French business name;
- Your employees have the right to work and receive employment-related communications in French, which would apply to any employment-related publicity contest;
- You must be able to serve the public in Quebec in French, which includes tele-marketing and voicemail greetings;
- Public signs and advertising are subject to extensive requirements, including that advertising on buses and large billboards must be exclusively in French, and French must be markedly predominant on other forms of advertising;
- Products and packaging must be in French (translations of the French are allowed, subject to conditions and presentation requirements);
- Written publications and documents, including the rules for your publicity contest, must be in French;
- Toys and games which involve language can be sold in Quebec in a non-French version only if a French version is available on no less favorable terms;
- Computer software sold or leased in Quebec must be available in French, unless no French language version exists, and the French language version has to work as well or better than the version sold in, for instance, English;
- For businesses with 50 or more employees, "francization" rules require businesses to generalize the use of French, the details of which can be found at the website of the Office québécois de la langue français ("OQLF", there is only a French version available).
The exceptions to this French language requirements are provided primarily in the regulations to the Charter, and include:
- the name of a business established exclusively outside of Quebec;
- a name of origin, the denomination of an exotic product or foreign speciality, a heraldic motto or any other non-commercial motto;
- a place name designating a place situated outside Quebec or a place name in such other language as officialized by the Commission de toponymie du Québec, a family name, a given name or the name of a personality or character or a distinctive name of a cultural nature;
- a “recognized trademark” within the meaning of the Trademarks Act (R.S.C. 1985, c. T-13), unless a French version has been registered.
Who needs to comply
All businesses with an establishment in Quebec that undertake commercial activities must comply. There are no exceptions for small businesses.
As mentioned above, the current practice of the Quebec government is that websites and social media pages accessible in the province of Quebec need to follow the requirements of the French Charter if those businesses have an establishment in Quebec and advertise, commercialize, or otherwise offer products and services to Quebec consumers. If a business does not have an establishment in Quebec, then the Quebec government currently takes the position that websites and social media pages of these businesses are not subject to the Charter. The policy of the Quebec government on this point can be found in the OQLF's publication Les Médias Sociaux et la Charte de la Langue Française: Guide Pratique à l'Intention des Entreprises (in French only).
Larger businesses have more French requirements as follows:
- If a business has 50 or more employees in Quebec during at least six months, it must register with the OQLF. The OQLF requires reporting on the use of French in the workplace and will analyze the reports and either award a 'francization certificate' or require the business to adopt a francization program to generalize the use of French.
- If a business has 100 or more employees in Quebec, it must have a francization committee to support the use of French in the workplace. The francization committee will work with OQLF advisors and submit periodical reports to the OQLF.
As of the date of this article, there is a bill in Quebec's legislature that would expand the requirement to obtain a 'francization certificate' to companies with 25 or more employees, and create a mechanism for citizens that are not served in French to file complaints.
There are exceptions to compliance in certain circumstances, such as the following:
Public Health and Safety
Both English and French can be used on signs if it is necessary for the health and safety of the public. The French version has to be at least as prominent as the English. If a safety warning is engraved or permanently attached to a product that is made outside of Quebec, then it can be in another language, as long as a French warning is also permanently attached to the product.
Culture & Education
Certain exceptions to the above apply to cultural or educational activities or products. Cultural and educational products include books, magazines and films. Cultural and educational activities include plays and conferences. If a product includes a French language version (like a French version of a DVD, for instance), then the packaging also needs to have a French version.
Advertising in non-French media can be just in the language of the media. "Media" includes newspapers, television channels and radio stations. For example, a commercial on an English television channel can be in English only.
Certain exceptions to the above apply to religious, political, ideological or humanitarian messages that are not used for making a profit.
How the translation should be provided
If a French version is required, the French version generally needs to be as good or better than the materials in another language. French must be 'markedly predominant' in advertising, and French language versions of computer software, for instance, must work as well or better than the original.
When you need to comply
If you want to offer products or services in Quebec, you must comply with the Charter. There is no phase-in period for the requirements.
The OQLF has the power to make inspections or inquiries on its own or following the filing of a complaint. As a practical matter, the OQLF usually responds to complaints from the public or competitors of a targeted business. OQLF officials may enter any place open to the public during business hours. OQLF officials may also examine any product or document, make copies or require that the business provide relevant information, and hindering an investigation by the OQLF is not allowed. If the OQLF concludes that the French requirements in the Charter are not being followed, it issues a formal notice to the offender. If the offender does not comply with the notice, the OQLF will refer the matter to the Attorney General to consider for prosecution.
The penalties for not complying with the Charter are as follows:
- For a first time offense, $600 to $6,000 for individuals, and $1,500 to $20,000 for legal persons.
- For subsequent convictions, $1,200 to $12,000 for individuals, and $3,000 to $40,000 for legal persons.
In addition, the non-compliant material may be ordered to be removed or destroyed.
Gowling WLG sells Contest Creator on PartnerVine. Contest Creator generates rules for promotional contests online. For more information on Contest Creator, go to the product page here. On that page, you will find a Q&A from Gowling under the title "What are the special rules for Promotional Contests in Quebec" that provides helpful information on publicity contests in Quebec.
To understand more about how to run a publicity contest in Quebec, see our article Publicity Contests in Quebec.
Éducaloi, an organization in Quebec dedicated to promoting access to justice and providing legal information online, has a good page on Language Laws and Doing Business in Quebec.
For a summary of promotional contest rules in Canada, see our article Contests or Sweepstakes in Canada.
For a comprehensive overview of promotional contest rules in Canada, see our article Promotional Contest Rules in Canada.
To understand how to run a promotional contest on Facebook or Instagram, see our article Contests on Facebook or Instagram.
For a set of frequently asked questions on promotional contests in Canada, see our article Promotional Contests in Canada: FAQs.
For information on Gowling WLG including the cost savings calculation discussed in this article, go to Gowling WLG's PartnerVine page here.
For information on Gowling WLG, go to Gowling WLG's website.
Finally, a note on how you can use the information on this page. This information is not to be considered legal advice and is not a substitute for advice from qualified legal counsel. Material aspects of this information may change at any time and without further notice.