1. What is the Charter? What is Bill 96?
Quebec's Charter of the French Language (the “Charter”) was adopted in 1977. It made French the everyday language of Quebec and imposed language regulations in most public settings.
On June 1, 2022, An Act respecting French, the official and common language of Québec (the “Act”) received assent. The Act, previously known as Bill 96, makes French the “only common language of the Québec nation.” It amends the Charter by increasing and adding to the obligations prescribed therein.
This newsletter lists some of the changes relevant to Canadian not-for-profits and registered charities.
2. Does the Charter apply to not-for-profits and charities?
Yes. The Charter applies to “enterprises,” which includes not-for-profits and charities. It applies to enterprises operating in Quebec, regardless of the jurisdiction in which they are constituted.
3. What obligations does the Charter impose on not-for-profits and charities?
3.1 Doing business and providing services in Quebec (some changes in force as early as June 1, 2022)
Provision of services
Every person has a right to be informed and served in French by any enterprise. Therefore, enterprises must be able to provide information and services to all clients—whether in person or otherwise—in French.
Contracts and related documents between private parties
The Charter requires certain types of contracts to be drawn up in French. The Act increases these obligations. Regardless of these changes, it is advisable to always have a French version of a contract available.
The Act also adds requirements for related documents to be available in French. For example, charities operating in Quebec must now be able to provide receipts to Quebec-based donors in French.
3.2 Employment relations (in force June 1, 2022)
Language of work and communication with employees
Every person has a right to carry on work activities in French. Previously, the Charter obligated employers to use French in written communication with employees. The Act maintains this and adds further obligations, such as the following:
Job postings, offers for transfer and offers for promotion must be drawn up in French. Non-French versions are permitted if a French version is published simultaneously via a similar means of transmission that will reach a target public of a comparable size.
Non-negotiated contracts must be drawn up in French. Negotiated employment contracts must be drawn up in French, unless the parties wish otherwise. Whether required or not, it is generally advisable to draw up French versions of employment contracts.
Job requirements may not include knowledge of a language other than French, unless the employer can prove the tasks performed require such knowledge.
3.3 Promotions, advertising, packaging, signage and trademarks (gradual coming into force)
The Act adds new obligations to the Charter with respect to promotions. As a general rule, when a French text is accompanied by a non-French translation:
- The French version must be at least as prominent as the non-French version; and
- The non-French version may not offer better terms than the French version.
Packaging, promotions, advertising and signage
All promotional material and advertising in Quebec must be in French. Translations in a language other than French are permitted if they satisfy the two requirements listed above.
When text or a trademark appears on signs or posters visible from outside a premises, the French text must be “markedly predominant” (i.e. twice as large).
Other rules may apply. Be sure to seek legal advice when preparing public promotions in Quebec.
Previously, non-registered trademarks could be displayed in a language other than French. The Act modifies the Charter such that, as of June 1, 2025, this exemption will not be available for the use of non-registered trademarks that do not have French versions. Accordingly, charities and NPOs should consider registering any trademarks that are currently not registered.
3.4 Communications with public bodies (fully in force by September 1, 2022)
Subject to very limited exceptions, as of June 1, 2022, communications between legal persons and government bodies must in French. As of September 1, 2022, the same will apply to communications between legal persons and the Quebec courts and to all documents filed pursuant to judicial proceedings.
3.5 Francization of enterprises
The Office Québécois de la langue française (the “OQLF”) oversees a “francization” certificate program. “Francization” requirements include registration, reporting and assessment of linguistic status in the workplace by the OQLF. Non-compliant enterprises must enrol in a remedial francization program. These requirements currently apply to all enterprises with 50 employees or more. As of June 1, 2025, these requirements will apply to all enterprises with 25 or more employees.
4. How is the Charter enforced?
The OQLF has enforcement authority over all affairs governed by the Charter. It receives complaints, issues orders and imposes sanctions. For example, individuals may be fined under the Charter. Directors of legal persons are liable for twice the fine that applies to individuals, and legal persons are liable for even higher fines.
5. Are there other obligations to consider when doing business in Quebec?
Yes. For example, any charity or NPO operating in Quebec must register with the Registre des entreprises, Quebec's company register. There may be other obligations as well. Consider seeking legal advice when operating in Quebec.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.