Bill 96: Quebec’s push for French

Bill 96: Quebec’s push for French

Language legislation in Canada’s Francophone province and what it means for businesses

In May 2022 Quebec’s National Assembly passed an amendment to the ‘Charter of the French Language’, the law that defines French as the official and primary language of the Canadian province. This amendment is known as Bill 96 and its aim is to uphold the status of French as the first language of Quebec. The bill has important implications for all businesses operating in the region.

This latest amendment to the Charter aims to ensure that French is the language of business in Quebec and puts the onus on companies, however big they are, to provide all documents and communications in French. The bill means that any interaction with customers and employees must take place in French.

Let’s take a look at the background to Bill 96 before moving on to what it might mean for your business in Quebec.

Why was Bill 96 introduced?

Despite its official status, French usage has been in decline in Canada for several decades and, surprisingly, the trend is now similar in Quebec. According to official data, the proportion of people speaking predominantly French at home is falling. The 2021 figures show that in relative terms, French is losing out to a rise in English speakers.

While this is due to a diversifying and growing population, it has worried the governing body of Quebec and led to the introduction of measures to protect and strengthen French in the form of Bill 96. The bill is designed to reinforce the use of French across many aspects of daily life and puts particular emphasis on making sure French is used in all forms of business communication.

What are the implications for businesses?

Under the new laws, any company that operates in Quebec whether it is headquartered there or not, must comply with the regulations or face being taken to court and risk hefty fines.

All documentation relating to employment must be in French. Contracts, onboarding materials, health and safety notices, letters of termination, training manuals and any other relevant texts must be primarily issued in French. Equally, any software interfaces or digital platforms present in the workplace have to use French.

If the usual working language of your organization is English or another language, French still has to be used for any interactions that take place in Quebec. Job advertisements for vacant positions in the province, for example, must appear in French as well as other languages and be published in the same places. If you require an employee to speak a language other than French, it must be justified in clear terms.

In short, employers are responsible for ensuring that working life in Quebec is conducted in French first and foremost.

It is a similar story for all customer interactions if they take place in the Canadian province. Bill 96 reinforces the use of the French language and makes sure it no longer appears ‘second best’ to English in this domain. French must be prominent on packaging, for product information, instructions or any other consumer information. When two languages are present, the French version must be on equal terms to the other language version. No more providing the French translation on request or online only, it must be just as visible and accessible.

French must be used for all customer-facing communications, including websites, brochures, customer service exchanges, warranty certificates and so on.

The same applies to commercial advertising and publications which must always give the French language prominence. Any advertising whether it be on websites, social media or elsewhere, must appear in French. Trademarks and public signage are also affected.

More translation needed

Bill 96 is complex and far-reaching but what is certain is that it can’t be ignored. While some of its measures have already come into force, some will be implemented by 1st June 2025 and revisions issued in 2024 have made it clear that websites and social media platforms are also subject to the bill.

For many businesses then, more translations will be required and current language policies may need to be revisited. Translation – already important in Quebecois commerce – will have increased significance as a vital part of business operations in the province.

Localization is key

When developing a translation strategy for any market, paying careful attention to local conventions and culture is always necessary. While some texts will be suited to precise, straightforward transfer to the new language, some like marketing materials, will benefit from a flexible approach, enabling them to reproduce the same message for the new audience.

French in Quebec is unique in its spoken form and it can differ significantly from the ‘français’ heard in France itself. Historical factors mean that Canadian French is pronounced differently with distinctive vowel sounds and has its own distinguishing vocabulary. Respecting these and the marked role Canadian French plays in the identity of Quebec and its people is important for successful translation strategies in the region.

Language is an opportunity

Although these language obligations in Quebec may sound weighty for businesses, implementing them doesn’t have to be. Making sure translation is part of your company’s overall strategy and not an afterthought is a good first step and will help the development of a more streamlined process.

Choosing to work with a language services provider (LSP) means you can take advantage of their technology know-how, project management capacity, scalable teams and of course, their linguistic expertise. When combined, these elements permit efficient, fast and productive translation workflows.

Working with an LSP creates an integrated strategy that means language becomes an opportunity rather than a chore. Offering a better experience for French speakers in Quebec and fully complying with the language laws there means building trust both within your organization and with consumers and opens up the possibility of market growth.

Let t’works help

With over 75 years of experience delivering quality in language on the global stage and a permanent hub in Toronto, the t’works group is superbly positioned to assist you with all your Canadian French language needs.

We offer a one-stop service for your multilingual communication with guaranteed quality assurance and data security at every step.

At t’works we can help you make sure it’s business as usual in Quebec.

Contact us today to talk about your Canadian French translation projects.

Your personal contact

Marie-Laure Vinckx

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