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No way around French Charter for businesses operating in Quebec

By Staff

Businesses that want to operate in Quebec must abide by the province’s Charter of the French Language, Brampton lawyer-linguist Suzanne Deliscar tells

A group of 11 Anglophone-owned Montreal businesses challenged the constitutionality of the French Charter after they were fined for violating provisions regarding product packaging, publications and commercial advertising.

However, the Quebec Court of Appeal upheld the fines, and the Supreme Court of Canada recently refused the businesses' leave to appeal to the nation’s top court.

“What’s important here is that the French Charter was deemed constitutional, which means there’s no way around it if you want to do business in Quebec,” says Deliscar, principal of Deliscar Professional Corporation, a law firm that offers services in English, French and Spanish. “Operating in Quebec is not like any other province, and you have to follow the French Charter.”

She explains that the translation industry in Quebec was watching the decision closely because the French Charter forces many companies that want to expand their operations into the province from predominantly English-speaking jurisdictions to produce French-language versions of many of their internal and external materials.

Sections 51 and 52 of the French Charter require product packaging and company publications — including websites — to be in French as well as English, while s. 58 mandates that the French text in commercial advertising be “markedly predominant” when sharing space with content in English.

After they were found guilty of violations of the French Charter and fined in Superior Court, the Montreal businesses argued that ss. 51, 52 and 58 interfered with their constitutionally protected rights to freedom of expression and equality and liberty.

However, the province’s appeal court agreed with the trial judge that the businesses failed to prove the fundamental threatened status of the French language had diminished enough to justify reopening the debate over the language’s vulnerability and the necessity of its protection.

In any case, the appeal court ruled that any violations of freedom of expression were justified under s. 1 of the Charter.

“The challenged legislation does not prevent the Appellants from advertising with their desired form and content; it merely requires them to add a concurrent or ‘markedly predominant’ French version should they wish to advertise in English,” the appeal court panel concluded. “In addition, the Appellants did not provide any evidence of an additional economic burden that would result from this requirement.”

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