Bill 96; What are the Impacts on Your Business?
Updated: Jun 27, 2022
Bill 96, An Act respecting French, the official and common language of Québec, came into force on May 24, 2022, and received assent on June 1st, 2022 (the “Bill”). The purpose of the Bill is to affirm that the only official and common language of Quebec is French. To that end, the Bill makes several amendments to the Charter of the French Language (the “Charter”) restricting the use of “another language other than French” and imposing obligations on the use of French across various sectors. As a result, most businesses operating in Quebec will have to adjust their operations to meet the requirements of the Bill.
The following are among the most important consequences of the Bill on businesses operating in Quebec:
1. Businesses will have to increase the use of French content in public signs, posters, and commercial advertising.
This requirement comes into force on June 1st, 2025.
Currently, the Charter requires public signs, posters, and commercial advertising to be done in French. Despite this clause, courts had determined that “recognized” trademarks - i.e. common law and registered trademarks - that were not in French could be used as long as sufficient French was also used alongside them.
The Bill makes two amendments to this rule:
Changes the language from “sufficient” use of French to one that is “markedly prominent” as compared to the trademark. The government has promised additional regulation to define what “markedly prominent” means in this context.
2. Businesses will have to use French when interacting with or contracting with the government or its agencies.
This requirement comes into force on June 1st, 2023.
Bill 96 aims to renew the efforts of the government to promote French by introducing a new section in which the civil administration shall use French, promote its quality, ensure its development, and protect it. This means exclusively using French in written and oral communications in government, in various government departments, and other agencies of the civil administration. 
As a result, businesses applying for permits, funding, and other government authorizations must apply in French. Further, French will be used exclusively amongst government officials and in contracts (with some limited exceptions) that businesses conclude with the government. Any contracts businesses conclude with an agency of civil administration that contravenes this requirement will be absolutely null even if the contravention causes no injury.  There are no exceptions.
3. Businesses will have to comply with strict French-language requirements for customer service.
Under the Charter, consumers of goods and services have always had the right to be served in French.  However, the Bill now adds that businesses that offer goods or services to “non-consumers” must also inform and serve them in French.
Non-compliance with this requirement will allow an aggrieved party to seek injunctive relief where the business employs more than 5 employees. 
4. There will be a decreased effectiveness of “choice of language” provisions in non-French contracts.
This requirement comes into force on June 1st, 2023.
Before the Bill, the Charter required contracts of adhesion and contracts with standard clauses to be drafted in French. However, a co-contracting party could request an English version of such a contract. In this case, a choice of language clause was inserted stating the parties requested the contract to be drawn up in English. Over the years, many companies began to draft an English version only and would insert the choice of language clause. With the new amendments, the choice of language clause has decreased effectiveness. Parties will only be able to sign and be bound by an English version if they first receive and examine the French version. 
Parties that request a French version of the contract will be obligated to provide it and other documents related to it in French. Businesses cannot charge for drawing up a French version of the contract or its related documents. 
The Bill now provides the right to have the contract annulled if it contravenes these new rules.  A party may also agree to keep the contract in effect and instead seek damages. Businesses will have to be careful when drawing up their contracts to ensure the Charter is respected to avoid the possibility of having a contract annulled.
5. Securities must be registered (and enforced) in French.
This requirement comes into force on September 1st, 2022.
In Quebec, various property rights on movable and immovable property must be registered with the province to be enforceable against third parties. Movable rights are registered on the Register of Personal and Movable Property while immovable rights are published on the Land Register.
Bill 96’s amendments now require that applications to publish security rights on movable or immovable property must be in French, and their accompanying documents must also be in French.  If they are in English, then they must be accompanied by a translation authenticated in Quebec.
6. There will be increased use of French in employment documents and a decreased emphasis on knowledge of another language other than French in labour-related matters.
This requirement comes into force on June 1st, 2022.
While the Charter already requires that written communications with employees be drawn up in French, the Bill goes further. Any offer of employment, transfer, or promotion must be published in French, and French must be the language of communication even after the termination of the employment relationship, with all or part of the staff, a worker in particular, or an association of workers representing all or part of the staff. Documents, including application forms, documents relating to the conditions of employment, and training documents must be in French. Additionally, an employer is not allowed to require an employee to have knowledge of another language other than French to gain employment, be transferred, or be promoted unless they can show that the performance of the duty requires such knowledge and that all reasonable means were taken to avoid imposing such a requirement. 
For offers of employment that are published in English, businesses must ensure that a French equivalent is published using the same medium and reaches a target public of proportionally comparable size.
7. Franciscation obligations for businesses with at least 25 employees or more (down from 50 employees or more) and sometimes for businesses with as few as 5 employees.
Currently, the Charter imposes francisation obligations for businesses that employ 50 or more employees for six months. These businesses must register with the Office québécois de la langue française (“OQLF”). The Bill now imposes this obligation on businesses employing 25 or more employees for three months (down from 6 months).
The OQLF may also identify businesses with as few as 5 employees to which it would offer French language learning services by Francisation Québec.
8. Businesses will have to use French in court proceedings.
The Bill requires pleadings to be drawn up in French or to have a certified French translation (prepared at the cost of the legal person) and attached to the pleadings.  There is no exception to this rule, even if all the parties wish to proceed in English. This requirement comes into force on September 1st, 2022.
While the Bill remains silent on the language in which trials will be conducted, it does add a new provision stating that judges are not required to have knowledge of a language other than French. 
Concerning judgments rendered in English that terminate a proceeding or are of public interest, a French version must be attached immediately and without delay.  This may increase delays in publishing judgments which, in turn, may potentially adversely affect time-sensitive matters.
This comes into force on December 1st, 2022.
9. Increased penalties for non-compliance.
The Bill not only amends the rules found within the Charter and other key legislation but also increases the fines for non-compliance. Fines for a first offence have increased from 1,500$-$20,000 to a range of $3,000-$30,000.  Fines for subsequent and repeat offences are even heftier. Subsequent offences may be fined between $6,000-$60,000 (increased from $3,000-$40,000) and repeat offences fined between $9,000-$90,000. 
Get in touch with us for any questions regarding updating your business practice to comply with Bill 96. We will continue to monitor and provide updates on the development of Bill 96, including any potential legal or constitutional challenges
This blog post is not legal advice and is for general informational purposes only. Always speak with a lawyer before acting on any of the information contained herein.
 Bill s 47 introducing s 58.1 to the Charter
 Bill s 6 introducing s 13.1 to the Charter
 Bill s 114 introducing s 204.17 to the Charter
 Charter s 5
 Bill s 204.16
 Bill s 44 amending s 55 of the Charter
 Bill s 44 amending s 55 of the Charter.
 Bill s 114 replacing ss 205 to 208 of the Charter.
 Bill s 125 introducing to s 2984 of the Civil Code of Québec
Bill s 33 amending s 45 of the Charter.
 Bill s 5 replacing ss 8 and 9 of the Charter
 Bill s 5 introducing s 12 to the Charter
 Bill s 5 introducing s 10 to the Charter
 Bill s 114 amending s 205 of the Charter
 Bill s 114 amending s 206 of the Charter