“…[French is the official language of Quebec and its government and law, as well as] the normal and everyday language of work, instruction, communication, commerce and business.” – Preamble of the Charter of the French Language
As you probably know, French is the official language of the Canadian providence of Quebec. Passed in 1974, the Charter of the French Language – also known as Bill 101 or Loi 101 – made French the sole official language of Quebec. Before the Charter was passed, Quebec was a bilingual providence which had both English and French as its official languages.
While the Charter of the French Language makes French the official language, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t acknowledge that there are English speaking citizens in Quebec. What this means is that if you are planning to do business and distribute documents and labels in Quebec, you’ll need to have everything translated into French.
The most interesting portion of the Charter is the first section which states:
- The right of persons to have all government branches, professional, corporations, employee associations and enterprises doing business in Quebec communicate in French.
- The right of persons to speak French in deliberative assemblies.
- The right of workers to carry on their activities in French.
- The right of consumers to be informed and served in French.
- The right of persons eligible for instruction in Quebec to receive that training in French.
The business ramifications to the Charter of the French Language
So, if you are going to do business in Quebec, you need to be prepared and have all your documents in both English and French. If you only have them in English, then you will be required to translate every document, manual, and product label into French.
The Charter also mentions that you are allowed to use other languages in Quebec apart from French where reasonable. For example:
- Quebec laws are published in English as well as in French.
- Persons may address courts of law in either French or English.
- Judgments by courts are made available in either the official language or in English upon request by one of the parties.
What’s interesting is that in the early 1980s there was a strong movement towards compliance with the Charter while in later years the movement has been leaning more towards bilingualism. At the very beginning, all commercial signs were regulated to be only in French; those in English or bilingual English and French were actually removed and replaced by French-only signs. The Supreme Court of Canada eventually ruled that this was unconstitutional which is why you can now see signs in bilingual English and French even though French must be predominant.
It is also interesting to note that these rules also apply to technology products and games or toys marketed to children in Quebec. A store can be fined if they offer only an English version and not one with its French translation of items as well such as video games.
So, if you’re planning to do business in Quebec, make sure to have all your documents, product labels, marketing materials and everything else in both English and French. The easiest way to get this done quickly and without having to spend thousands of dollars is to use French translation software. Systran’s most accurate language is the English / French so there is no doubt it can relied on to translate documents. Many translation agencies and even the French Embassy in Quebec uses SYSTRAN.
Have questions about the language usage and laws in Quebec? Go ahead and write them in a comment below.