Consumers will ultimately pay the price for Québec’s new language rules, experts say –

Alexandre Fallon

Feb 27, 2024

Expected changes to Québec’s Charter of the French Language requiring labels, dials and instructions to be written in French are expected to make purchasing and producing everyday items more costly for manufacturers and consumers. In an article headlined “Consumers will ultimately pay the price for Québec’s new language rules, experts say,” posted to the CBC’s website, journalist Isaac Olson examined the effects of the proposed amendments and interviewed experts, including Alexandre Fallon, partner, Litigation.

Alexandre explained that the requirement to render things like embossed or engraved buttons on appliances or non-safety-related interfaces on automotive dashboards in French — and to impose the requirement almost immediately upon becoming law — is likely to create a host of business challenges.

“These are requirements that are unique in the world,” said Alexandre. “The calculus becomes: do I modify the design of my product and my product packaging for this relatively small market?”

He added that English versions of products, such as computer keyboards, can continue to be sold as long as French versions are also available. When it comes to software, Alexandre said that the French and the English versions must be equivalent at the very least, with the English version not being permitted to offer more functionality than the French one. 

Alexandre was also a guest on a recent episode of the CBC program “Radio Noon Québec with Shawn Apel” where he was one of the experts invited to offer insights into why there is confusion about the proposed language law changes.

For example, there is currently debate about whether a manufacturer could use a French-language sticker to cover up English words engraved or embossed into a product. “Does the equivalency requirement mean that if it’s engraved in English, it also has to be engraved in French? I think that’s an open question that the regulation has not clarified,” said Alexandre.

He also addressed the fact that the new regulations will be subject to the same private right of action by any Québec resident that can be taken under the rules of Bill 96, which “introduces a lot of uncertainty for business, unfortunately,” because “at the end of the day, the government can say something, but if that’s not how it’s written, people can still sue and then it’d be up to judges to decide what [the regulation] actually means.”

You can listen to February 28, 2024’s full episode on the CBC website.