Size Matters – The Complexity of Retail Signs in Québec Under Bill 96 [Expert Op-Ed]

By Éric Blais

If mass service provider Zellers was still functioning these days, it would be a single of the handful of shops in Québec with an English trademark complying with the language law. The retailer’s famous slogan “Because the least expensive price tag is the law” (Le as well as bas prix est la loi) set in big type future to the English trademark would probably fulfill the necessity for the “predominance of French”, which is at the main of Invoice 96’s provisions for community signs and posters obvious from outdoors premises.

Impression: Zellers

Why? It is intricate. And it is nonetheless unclear how this will be enforced right after the June 1, 2025 deadline.

For those people who like reading lawful texts, right here is a hyperlink to the Monthly bill (in English).

For individuals who obtain these points TLTR, right here is an overview of the law’s implications for shops operating in Québec.

The spirit of the regulation

The objective of this bill is to affirm that the only formal language of Québec is French. It also affirms that French is the popular language of the Québec nation. To that end, the monthly bill can make a number of amendments to the Charter of the French language.

Importantly for stores and marketers, the monthly bill strengthens provisions relating to the use of French as the language of commerce and business enterprise, in specific as it problems signals and posters.


Bill 96 introduces a new segment 58.1 concerning the exception for general public signs, posters and professional promotion. A trademark may well be displayed only in a language other than French in public signs, posters and business advertising and marketing, with out a French model, as lengthy as (1) the trademark is registered underneath the Trademarks Act and (2) there is no corresponding French version in the Trademark Sign up.

Simply just set, Canadian Tire can use this trademark on its symptoms as long as it does not trademark a French model like Pneu canadien. But it will will need to do so with disorders that may possibly make this impractical from a branding standpoint.

On the other hand, home furnishings retailer Leon’s ought to use its French trademark Léon on its signs, which it presently does. Just like Purchasers Drug Mart will go on to use its Pharmaprix trademark, Staples its Bureau en gros title, and so on.

Image: Leon’s

If the trademark does not meet these two conditions, it have to comprise a French variation that appears in the general public indication, poster and/or professional advertising in a “markedly predominant” fashion.

From the adequate presence of French to the predominance of French

This is a smaller wording modify with significant and possibly pretty puzzling implications for shops. The need made use of to be that there really should be “sufficient presence of French”. That is why numerous countrywide and worldwide stores working in Québec extra a French descriptor to their signals. Wander on Montreal’s Ste-Catherine Avenue or visit a searching shopping mall in Québec and you will see Winners Mode, Boutique Lululemon, Victoria’s Secret Lingerie, Newlook lunetterie, Moores Vêtements pour hommes, and many some others just before heading to Café Starbucks for a café au lait or lunch at Les restaurant Burger King or 5 Men Hamburgers et Frites.

It is significant to take note that this rule applies to any “public indicators and posters obvious from outdoors premises” as properly as any signage placed inside of a premise if its installation or attributes are intended to be seen from the exterior. This applies to registered emblems that are only in a language other than French – not just English. I suspect there will be a lot of gray zones about what defines a trademark in a language other than French. Get Japanese apparel retailer Uniqlo. It’s a contraction of Exclusive Clothing Warehouse. Or Spanish retailer Zara, which was originally named Zorba immediately after the vintage 1964 movie Zorba the Greek.

Would these retailers be required to make sure the “predominance of French” on their signals? That’s not likely. The Charter’s paragraph 67, which isn’t amended by Bill 96, states that “Family names, location names, expressions shaped by the synthetic mixture of letters, syllables or figures, and expressions taken from other languages may well look in the names of enterprises to specify them.”

Who understands for confident? Just after all, we’ve had the so-named Pastagate in 2013.

You may well remember how an inspector of the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) sent a letter of warning to an upscale restaurant, Buonanotte, for utilizing Italian words and phrases these kinds of as pasta, antipasti and calamari on its menu in its place of their French equivalents. The incident happened as the Countrywide Assembly was debating Bill 14, a monthly bill to toughen the province’s Constitution of the French Language. In its place of complying with instructions on the letter he gained from the OQLF, the owner of Buonanotte went community, and it generated a common community outcry across the province, even amongst francophones, about the OQLF abusing its powers. The incident led to the resignation of Louise Marchand, head of the OQLF.

The moment the legislation is in outcome, here’s how Café Starbucks may possibly search like in Québec.

Impression: Starbucks

It makes no perception from a branding standpoint. And that’s probable the government’s stage. Invoice 96 is intended to fortify the Constitution. And a single way to do so is to make it impractical to continue to keep employing an English trademark on indicators. The legislation is efficiently forcing shops to trademark a French edition of their name. So, the notion that electronics retailer Most effective Purchase could develop into Meilleur Achat in Québec is no lengthier significantly-fetched.

Failure to comply will be high-priced

Invoice 96 offers the OQLF new electricity.

The court may possibly, on an software by the OQLF, buy the removal or destruction of any poster, indication, ad, billboard or illuminated signal that contravenes the Constitution, at the price of the offender. The minister of the French Language will have the ability to suspend or revoke a allow delivered by a different authority in Québec. The fines for contravening the Constitution can be as significant as $30,000. Quantities are doubled for a next offence and tripled for any added offence.

When this is no laughing make any difference, I suspect we will see some quite resourceful interpretations of the law and variations in buy to comply. Considering that ”marked predominance” of French is content if the textual content created in French “has a considerably bigger visible influence than the text published in the other language”, what is to reduce a retailer like Winners to continue to keep employing its identify, maintain its present-day illuminated sign and include markedly bigger signal up coming to it with its French slogan? Or Lululemon introducing a big backlit signal with just one of its mottos like “Do one thing a working day that scares you” in French in big font?

This story is absolutely 1 to be continued, or À SUIVRE.

Éric Blais is the President of Headspace Promoting in Toronto, a consultancy helping entrepreneurs build their brands in Québec considering the fact that 2004.


Resources consulted:

Invoice 96 –

Borden Ladner Gervais LLP Charter Of The French Language: Alterations Influencing Emblems In Québec, 21 July 2022 by Clara Chow and Genevieve Bergeron