Quebec Bill 96 Rulemaking Published, Affecting All Companies Doing Business in the Province

January 30, 2024 | A draft regulation was published January 10 in the official gazette of Quebec as part of continued legislative activity in the Canadian province related to Bill 96. The rulemaking amends the province's commercial language regulation, impacting all business transactions in Quebec.

A 45-day comment period on the draft regulation is open until February 24, 2024. The Toy Association™ is part of a coalition of associations and companies, coordinated by the International Trademark Association (INTA), advocating for manufacturers that do business in Quebec.

Quebec’s Bill 96 was signed into law on June 1, 2022 to amend the Charter of the French Language, with the intention to protect and enhance the use of the French language over any other language. This legislation has a far-reaching impact across all sectors, affecting all products, trademarks, retail, and sales signage in the province. The basis of the rule is to “affirm that the only official language of Quebec is French,” mandating that all public signs and commercial advertising in Quebec must be in French. Bilingual signage, in French along with another language is permitted, provided that French is predominant.

Bill 96 also increases potential fines for a violation of the Charter, to a range of $3,000 to $30,000 for companies. Fines are doubled for a second offence and tripled for subsequent repeat offences. Bill 96 also provides that, when an offence continues for longer than one day, it will constitute a separate offence for each day it continues, and additional fines may be imposed as a result of non-compliance.

Although certain sections of the law came into force on June 1, 2023, a second group of requirements will come into force on June 1, 2025. These requirements will have significant implications for toy companies regarding product markings, product packaging and instructions, as well as for contracting, public signage, advertising, trademark usage/registration, and packaging displays physically located in or supplied for sale in Quebec. One major concern is the shift in the treatment of trademarks; the bill imposes a restriction, stating that trademarks can only be displayed on product packaging and labeling in a language other than French if the trademarks are officially registered in Canada.

The recently published regulation supports the prior introduction of Bill 96 by revising specific sections of the Regulation Respecting the Language of Commerce and Business. While this revision does address some of the issues previously identified — including providing a definition for “product,” allowing some trademark relief until June 1, 2027, and providing a baseline for determining what is “markedly predominant” — the draft regulation introduces significant new concerns and issues due to inconsistent application of existing and amended provisions across product labeling, commercial publications (including social media), and signage on or in buildings, as well the introduction of new or enhanced restrictions on the usage of non-French language information. An example of the latter is the narrowing of the exemptions for on-product markings to also include anything that can be considered “instructions” for use.

“Although not toy-specific, Bill 96 has the potential to heavily impact any company in the toy industry that operates in the Quebec market, affecting the products and packaging, business operations, and trade signage,” said Jos Huxley, senior vice president of technical affairs at The Toy Association. “The Toy Association continues to actively monitor the ongoing situation and coordinate with other industry and association partners about the impact this bill will have on toy companies doing business in the province.”

The Toy Association will keep the toy industry apprised of developments on this issue. Questions regarding Quebec’s Bill 96 may be directed to Jos Huxley.