Canada: Charter Of The French Language

Under the Charter of the French Language, French is both the official language of Québec and the normal language of work (employees have a right to carry on their activities in French) and commerce (consumers of goods and services have a right to be informed and served in French).

Business names

Business names must be in French. However, a business name may be accompanied by a version in a language other than French, provided that the French version of the business name appears at least as prominently. The Charter of the French Language provides various rules on writing and formulation with respect to business names.

Public signs, with or without a commercial character, must be in French. "Public signs" refers to any messages addressed to the public, whether located inside or outside the business premises. Public signs can also be in both French and another language, provided that French is markedly predominant over any other language (the visual impact must be greater). However, the scope of the general obligation requiring that French must be markedly predominant over any other language could be moderated in certain circumstances.

In addition, in texts or documents drafted only in a language other than French, a business name may appear in the other language only.

When the company's name is displayed, it must be in French. If a version in another language is used, the French version must be clearly predominant. When the company's name is mentioned on printed labels, commercial or printed labelling, it must be in French. If a version in another language is used, the rule of equivalence applies.

Commercial publications

Catalogues, brochures, folders and commercial directories may be in two (2) separate versions: one exclusively in French, the other exclusively in another language, provided that the material presentation of the French version is available under no less favourable conditions of accessibility and quality than the version in the other language. They can also be published in both French and another language, provided that the French text is at least as prominent as any other language.

In the case of application forms for employment, invoices, receipts, order forms and releases, the general rule provides that these documents may be drafted in French only or in both French and in another language.

Contracts pre-determined by one party and contracts including printed standard provisions must be drawn up in French. They may also be drawn up in another language at the express wish of the parties.

Business cards can be unilingual, bilingual or printed with a different language on either side, whichever choice makes the most business sense.

Websites

Advertising documentation through a website, whether interactive or not, available to the public by a company with an establishment in Québec, must be in French. Commercial advertising carried by a website can be made in another language than French provided it has an equal value.

In addition, companies with 50 employees or more are covered by francization programs which also apply to information technology. Therefore, the absence of French on the website could lead to withdrawal or suspension of the francization certificate.

Public signs, posters and commercial advertising

Public signs, posters and commercial advertising must be in French. One or several other languages may be added but the law requires that French be markedly predominant, meaning that French is to have a much greater impact than the text in the other language or languages (i.e. French be twice as visible as any other language or there be twice as many signs in French containing the same text).

Product labelling

Product labelling must be in French and the use of one or more other languages is optional. No inscription in another language may be given greater prominence than that in French.

Computer software

All computer software, including game software and operating systems, whether installed or uninstalled, must be available in French, unless no French version exists. Software can also be available in languages other than French, provided that the French version can be obtained on terms (except price, where it reflects higher production or distribution costs) that are no less favourable and that it has technical characteristics that are at least equivalent.

Some employees may express a preference for the English version of a computer software, if the employer agrees to make it available to them. However, these individual choices should not undermine the widespread use of French in the company. In practice, the Office of the French Language ("Office") will request that the French version be available in first on all workstations or by default.

Language in the workplace

All written communications from an employer to its staff must be in French or bilingual. Collective agreements must be drafted in French, although there can be an unofficial English version.

It is forbidden for an employer to require the knowledge of a language other than French for a position, unless it is shown that the nature of the duties of this particular position necessitates the knowledge of another language. It is also illegal for an employer to dismiss, lay off, transfer or demote an employee for the sole reason that he speaks only French or does not have an adequate knowledge of another language. Any violation of these provisions constitutes an offence and gives a person the right to file a complaint before a labour commissioner or an arbitrator, if he is governed by a collective agreement.

Penalties provided for in the Charter of the French Language

For a first offence, fines now range from $1,500 to $20,000 in the case of a legal person, and from $600 to $6,000 in the case of an individual. The fines are doubled for a subsequent offence.

Moreover, if a person is convicted of an offence, a judge may impose on the offender, in addition to any other penalty, a further fine equal to the financial gain the offender realized or derived from the offence, even if the maximum fine has also been imposed.

Francization program and certificate

Employers having 50 employees or more are required to implement a francization program, if the use of French is not generalized at all levels of their business, in or-der to obtain a francization certificate.

A francization program is intended to attain such an objective through various measures such as: the knowledge of French on the part of management and other members of the personnel; an increase, where necessary, in the number of persons having a good knowledge of French at all levels of the business; the use of French as the language of work and as the language of internal communication; the use of French in manuals, catalogues and other working documents of the business; the use of French in communications with the civil administration, clients, suppliers, the public and shareholders; the use of French terminology; the use of French in public signs and posters and commercial advertising; appropriate policies for hiring, promotion or transfer; and the use of French in information technologies.

Critical path leading to the issuance of a francization certificate

1. Every business employing 50 employees or more for a period of six (6) months must register with the Office within six (6) months from the end of that period. In addition, businesses employing 100 or more persons must form a francization committee composed of six (6) persons or more (at least one-third of whom shall be representatives of the employees).

2. The Office will then issue a certificate of registration to the business. The employer must keep its employees informed of the application of the steps outlined in the certificate.

3. Within six (6) months of the date on which the certificate of registration is issued, the business must transmit to the Office an analysis of its linguistic situation.

4. If the Office considers that the use of French is generalized at all levels of the business, it will issue a francization certificate.

5. If the Office considers that the use of French is not generalized at all levels of the business, it will notify the business that it must adopt a francization program to be submitted for approval within the next six (6) months of the date on which the notice is received.

6. Once a francization program is approved, the Office issues an attestation of implementation in respect of the program.

7. The business is then required to submit reports on the implementation of its program every 24 months in the case of a business employing fewer than 100 employees, and every 12 months in the case of a business employing 100 or more employees.

8. Where the business has completed the implementation of its francization program and the Office considers that the use of French is generalized at all levels of the business, the Office will then issue a francization certificate.

9. Every business holding a francization certificate is required to ensure that the use of French remains generalized at all levels and must submit to the Office, every three (3) years, a report on the progress of the use of French in the business.

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