Helen Burnett-Nichols, Canadian Lawyer
many retailers already established in Quebec, as well as those looking to set
up shop in the province, a new campaign to ensure that outside store signage
complies with the Charter of the French Language is leading to questions about
what is ultimately best for their brand.
by a fresh upsurge of multinational retailers coming into Quebec and using
trademarks exclusively in other languages, the Office québécois de la langue
française has made the issue a priority, kicking off a campaign last November
aimed at urging companies to comply with language requirements with respect to
But rather than a question of companies failing to
abide by the legal requirements of the Charter or being dismissive of cultural
issues, Kelly Moffatt, head of the marketing and distribution practice
group at Osler Hoskin & Harcourt LLP, says many retailers already thought
they were working within the Charter’s legal framework. “A lot of the
retailers, certainly clients I deal with, are good corporate citizens, and they
say, ‘this is the law, this is what the Charter says, and this is what the
Charter requires and this is what we have been doing and we continue to do,’” she
“There [have] not been any recent changes to the
Charter, so we’re dealing with the same legislation and regulations that we’ve
been dealing with in Quebec for quite some time,” she adds.
With the new campaign, the Office, she says, is taking
a trademark analysis approach, saying that when you put that company sign on
the outside of a store, it is not being used as a trademark, but as a trade
The signage issue is not a new one in the province.
The result of the campaign so far has been a relative
flurry of activity since mid-2011 for companies responding to correspondence
from the Office, engaging in discussions with organizations like the Retail
Council of Canada and waiting to see what the campaign brings, explains
When contacted for its views on the campaign, the
Retail Council of Canada said it “has no comment at this time.”
Essentially, says Moffatt, the decision to add a
descriptor is a branding and marketing issue, rather than a legal issue,
raising the question of the power of a company’s brand and who is the custodian
of many retailers’ most important asset.
“I think it’s an issue of those specific retailers
being in control of their brand and if they make a business decision of ‘I want
to have a French version of my name,’ so like a Shoppers Drug Mart in Quebec is
Pharmaprix,” she adds.
Depending on the retailer and the strength of their
brand and business objectives, adding a descriptor could possibly be a positive
step, but ultimately represents a blurring of the line between what the legal
requirements are and what an individual company’s marketing decisions are, says
Ultimately, says Moffatt, it is perhaps the
legislation that needs to adapt. “If the current legislation, which is meant to
protect these unique cultural issues and language issues, is insufficient, the
appropriate approach is to deal with the legislator and have amendments made to
the legislation or the regs,” she says.
“Things have changed since the ’70s with this
legislation and we need to regroup, revisit, and revise, and I think retailers
would be probably receptive to that,” she adds.