If you have visited Quebec, intend to visit, or you decide to move there, you should be aware of the special language laws that were passed in order to protect the usage of the French language in the province.
The language rules affect businesses, government and schools in Quebec as all of these institutions in the province must follow the language requirements of the Charter of the French language in Quebec.
Charter of the French language
Quebec passed the Official Language Act in 1974. The act was intended to cement French as the official language of Quebec and ensure that Anglophones kept their historic rights.
However, the act was replaced by the charter in 1977 and the new charter was not only intended to preserve the status of the French language but also to ensure that the language used in government, commerce, employment and education be predominantly French.
What are some examples of these laws?
One prominent example is the law regarding signs.
The law states that in certain circumstances only French should be used for signs and advertising. For example, if there is advertising on buses or large billboards, they should be in French.
For other kinds of advertising and signs, English may be used along with French but French must remain the predominant language on those signs. That often means that the French portion of the advertisement comes first, is bigger and takes up more space.
Another good example of the charter regulating that French is the predominant language is that written documents, such as standard-form contracts, must be in French. Such contracts include leases, gym-memberships and cellphone contracts. People can ask for a version in a different language but the contract must be in French.
However, it’s not only contracts have to be in the French language but also receipts, warranties, order forms, brochures and catalogues. Consumers can ask for a version in a different language but the French version must be available.
In the workplace, employers must use French in written documents that are distributed among staff, and all workers in Quebec have the right to use French at work. Employers are not allowed to fire a worker just because they cannot speak, or only limitedly, speak English or another language.
Even toys are not exempt from the charter. Toys and games that use language, and that includes computer and video games, can only be sold in Quebec if a French version is available.
Office québécois de la langue française
The office that enforces the charter is the office québécois de la langue française. The office’s duty is to make sure that the predominant language for government, business and employment is French. The office also handles the complaint process, if a complaint is made under the charter.
The office is responsible for:
- Dealing with complaints about rules under the Charter;
- Offering a telephone consultation service for specific language questions;
- Making sure businesses use French in the workplace;
- Creating language tools such as a the Grand dictionnaire terminologique;
- Publishing reference book on the French language;
- Managing special libraries;
- Examining the language abilities of professionals required by law to have knowledge of French.
Language Laws and Doing Business in Quebec
Chapter C-11 Charter of the French Language