French language requirements in Québec: Part 4 - Public signs, posters and commercial advertising

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This fourth article of our French language requirements in Québec series explores the rules for public signs, posters, and commercial advertising in Québec. For an introduction to the Charter of the French language (R.S.Q. c. C-11) (the French Charter), as well as an overview of the French language requirements in Québec for inscriptions on products and accompanying documentation, and for commercial publications, please see the previous articles of this series.

What is “Public Signage” and “Commercial Advertising”?

The Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) considers any message displayed in a place accessible to the general public as “public signage”, regardless of the medium used to display it (signs, posters, billboards, displays, etc.)1, and the expression of a commercial message through public signage as “commercial advertising”.

For instance, the following would be considered public signage/commercial advertising2:

  • The name of a store displayed outside the store, on the storefront;
  • An inscription regarding the type of services offered, painted on the window of a business;
  • A promotion displayed on a stand, at the entrance of a store;
  • A message promoting the opening of a new store, displayed on a vehicle.

General Rule

The general rule is that public signage and commercial advertising in Québec must be in French. Another language may also be used alongside French, provided that French is "markedly predominant"3.

In practice, “markedly predominant” means that the text in French has a much greater visual impact than the text in another language4. The Regulation defining the scope of the expression "markedly predominant" for the purposes of the Charter of the French language (R.S.Q. c. C-11, r.11) (the Regulation defining “markedly predominant”) has been adopted to provide further guidance on the “markedly predominant” requirement and provides that French is deemed “markedly predominant” where certain conditions are met. For example,

  • where the text in French and the corresponding text in another language appear on the same sign or poster, the following would be compliant because the space allotted to the text in French and the characters of the text in French are at least twice as large as those of the text in English, AND the sign does not otherwise reduce the visual impact of the text in French5;
  • where the text in French and the corresponding text in another language appear on separate signs, of the same size, with the same exact visual treatment, the following would be compliant because there are 2 signs in French and 1 sign in English 6;

Exceptions

The Regulation respecting the language of commerce and business (R.S.Q. c. C-11, r.9) (the Regulation) provides a series of exceptions to the general rule. These exceptions are numerous and some of them target very specific situations that are beyond the scope of this article. As such, only a few of these exceptions are detailed below7:

  • Commercial advertising in Québec displayed on billboards, signs or posters having an area of 16 m2 or more and visible from a public highway (unless the advertising is displayed on the very premises of the business)8, or commercial advertising in Québec on any means of public transportation (including accesses thereto such as bus shelters)9 must be exclusively in French;
  • Commercial advertising or public signs and posters displayed during an event in Québec concerning a convention, conference, fair or exhibition intended solely for a specialized or limited public may be exclusively in a language other than French 10;
  • Public signs and posters displayed by an individual person for non-professional and non-commercial purposes may be in the language of the person's choice11;
  • A “recognized trademark” within the meaning of the Trademarks Act (R.S.C. 1985, c. T-13), unless a French version has been registered may be exclusively in a language other than French12. This exception will be discussed in detail in the next article of this series.

The next article (part 5) of the French language requirements in Québec series will explore the “recognized trademark” exception.

References

1. See question 28 “Qu’entend-on par affichage public?”: https://www.oqlf.gouv.qc.ca/charte/questions_freq/faq.html#afficher.

2. “Pour faire affaire au Québec, le français, c’est incontournable”, available online at https://www.oqlf.gouv.qc.ca/francisation/entreprises/feuillet-affichage-marque-commerce.pdf.

3. French Charter, section 58.

4. “Le français, langue du travail, du commerce et des affaires au Québec – Les obligations des entreprises relatives à la Charte de la langue française”, available online at https://www.oqlf.gouv.qc.ca/francisation/entreprises/201610_guide.pdf, at p. 8.

5. Regulation defining “markedly predominant”, section 2.

6. Regulation defining “markedly predominant”, section 3.

7. For a complete list of exceptions, see Regulation, sections 15 to 24.

8. Regulation, section 15.

9. Regulation, section 16.

10. Regulation, section 24.

11. Regulation, section 23.

12. Regulation, section 25(4).

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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