Last year, the Québec government passed a new law, Bill 96, an amendment to the Charter of the French Language, to promote the use of the French language in the province and also affirm that French is the common language of the Québec nation.
The planned changes will have an impact on all businesses that operate and/or have employees in Québec, and many of Bill 96’s new requirements have already come into force since March 2023.
In this article, we’ll outline what those new changes mean for your business and how that will ultimately impact aspects surrounding your company, such as providing a website for French-speaking audiences.
Note, this article should not be considered legal advice, it’s simply a summary of the new law.
What is Quebec’s Bill 96?
In May 2022, Bill 96 was officially passed by Québec’s National Assembly and became law. The act, officially known as “An Act respecting French, the official and common language of Québec” recognizes French as the common language of Québec, Canada.
This amendment is the first major transformation of Québec’s Charter of the French Language (Bill 101) since 1977 and will mean Québec businesses need to operate in French both internally and externally.
Further, businesses based outside of Québec, but operating with customers in the province will also be required to provide French translation to the same quality as any English-language content and communications they produce.
What is the purpose of Bill 96?
The goal of Bill 96 is to protect and strengthen French as the official language within the province. The original language law, Bill 101, put the French language at the heart of business, education, and commerce operations in Québec and Bill 96 expands further with added areas for compliance and the addition of penalties for non-compliance.
This was because there was a growing concern among Francophones that the use of the French language was on the decline in Québec.
When does Bill 96 take effect?
Several sections of Bill 96 already came into force in June 2022, but adoption will be staggered based on the size of the company.
Businesses in Quebec with 25 or more employees will need to submit formal documentation to the Office Québécois De La Langue Française (OQLF) and comply with the Francization requirement by June 1, 2025.
How does Bill 96 impact businesses?
Bill 96 will have several implications for businesses operating in the province and legal challenges if the law isn’t followed correctly.
Primarily, the new requirements mean that businesses must service customers in both French and English, without favoring one over the other, and new powers will mean fines will be given out if the regulation isn’t followed.
There are several amendments that will impact businesses and the following is a summary of certain areas:
Québec businesses with 25 to 49 employees will be subject to the same francization rules as those with 50 to 99 employees. These companies will need to use French at all levels of their companies.
In addition, businesses with 25 to 100 employees are required to form a francization committee if the Office Québécois de la langue française (Office) requires it. For businesses with more than five employees, the Office can impose French language learning services.
There will be a requirement that all public contracts (contracts entered into by the Civil Administration) be drafted exclusively in French, although a version in another language may be attached to the French version in certain circumstances.
With a few exceptions, any communication between a business and a Civil Administration agency concerning a permit, subsidy, or other authorization must be conducted in French.
Commerce and business
The Bill reinforces businesses’ obligation to serve consumers in French when providing goods and services. The default language of communications and service for businesses that offer goods and services to a public other than consumers is French.
Public signs, advertising, and products
For public signs and commercial advertisements, trademarks may still be used in other languages as long as there is no French version registered in Canada, and a generic description or slogan in French is used. In the absence of these conditions, a markedly predominant French translation is required on any signage.
When a business name contains expressions from another language, the French language will have to be prominently displayed on exterior signage.
As for product inscriptions, they must be drafted in French. Inscriptions in other languages may be accompanied by a translation, but they cannot be more prominent or more advantageous than those in French.
Preparing Canadian businesses for French language requirements
Bill 96 outlines several consequences for non-compliance, and anyone who feels his or her French language rights have been violated may now bring a civil action.
For a first offense, fines have been raised from $3,000 to $30,000 (previously, the maximum fine was $20,000). Subsequent offenses may result in a doubled penalty or even a tripled penalty.
What does Bill 96 mean for your website?
If your business operates a website that serves customers in Québec, the proposed Bill 96 will require you to make changes to comply with the new Québec language law and therefore the use of French will be required on your website.
That means you’ll need to ensure that your website content is translated. This includes providing a French version of your website’s pages, menus, forms, and any other elements.
How can Weglot help with your website translation needs?
While website translation is 1 aspect of what will ultimately be required for businesses to comply with the new regulations, it’s naturally one of the first places you might consider translating for your customer-facing communications.
Weglot is a powerful website translation software that translates, displays, and allows you to manage your website translation project with ease. Once installed, Weglot continuously syncs with your site to ensure any content you’ve uploaded to your original site will be fully translated.
This eliminates the need for constantly going back and forth with a translation agency and including your developer team to display those translations.
How does Weglot work?
Using a first layer of neural machine translation, Weglot works by detecting 100% of the content on your site and translating it instantly. You’ll then get full access and editing control of your translations so you can make manual edits with your team and/or chosen translation agency, or even order pro translation directly inside your Weglot project, and perfect your messaging.
Your translations are handled in a separate dashboard outside of your CMS, which gives you added security and anyone editing the translations won’t have access to the original copy of your site.
There are 2 ways to edit your translations, either through your Translations List, where you’ll see the original language side-by-side with the translation, or the Visual Editor, which takes you to a live preview of your website where you can see your translations in context.
Both views give you the same results, it’s purely down to how you prefer to handle your translation management workflow. And with our glossary feature, you can create translation rules across your multilingual website ensuring consistency and reducing the number of manual translation edits required.
What’s more, you won’t need to worry about handling how you’ll display your new French pages as your translated pages will be automatically displayed under language subdirectories or subdomains thanks to Weglot. So you’ll either have the following structure:
This is also 1 part of your international SEO. Weglot also handles other aspects to help you rank in search engines, such as automatically adding hreflang tags and translated metadata for a fully technically optimized site.
To see how you can quickly get your website translated into French and start complying with Bill 96, try Weglot’s 10-day free trial and get help with your website translation needs.
Please note, as mentioned in the introduction, this article should not be considered legal advice.