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Global Business 05.09.18 BLOG 

Mind Your Ps and Qs When Doing Business in the Province of Quebec

By The TransPerfect Canada Team

OQLF is Quebec’s language board

Mind Your Ps and Qs When Doing Business in the Province of Quebec

In many of Canada’s largest cities, you’re more likely to overhear a conversation in English than French. In fact, outside of Quebec, Canada’s French-majority province, you’re as likely to hear Mandarin, Punjabi, Polish, or one of any other non-official languages spoken by nearly a quarter of the population[i]. Yet, nationwide, advertisements, packaging, and sometimes even menus are legally required to be bilingual. In Quebec, these laws are even stricter.

The OQLF is Quebec’s language board which established French as the primary language, culture, and identity of the province. Known for its creative and on occasion newsworthy localization, the OQLF, mandated by the Charter of the French Language, dictates advertising law in la belle province. On bilingual advertisements, French must be predominant, meaning at least twice as large as English copy. Sometimes this French copy will be placed to the left, in order to be read first. Advertisements run on busses or large billboards forgo English entirely, and can only use the approved French[ii].

Linguists and translators have been creating French replacements for new English terms for years. For example, email has become courriel and selfie has been accurately replaced with égoportrait[iii]. While the OQLF has become notably less strict about enforcing these replacements, failure to comply with any of the above laws can result in substantial fines, and has even seen businesses closed until the issue is resolved.

Of course, it’s important to note that these regulations are born out of a desire to protect and promote French heritage, not to diminish English or other languages. For years companies have limited promotional pushes into Quebec in order to avoid these restrictions, missing out on a sizable consumer group.

Additional Quebec Requirements and Exemptions

  • Any business, regardless of their actual location, that operates in Quebec must have a French business name (we’re called Traductions TransPerfect Inc.)
  • Commercial publications, meaning catalogues, brochures, and even websites, must be available in French
  • Any company with over 50 employees must conduct all internal business in French
  • Advertising to children under the age of 13 is directly prohibited
  • Media is often exempt
    • For example, an Italian newspaper can be published solely in Italian and an English commercial can air on an English channel
  • Political and religious messaging and advertising are exempt, as are NGOs

The best way to do business in Quebec is to understand and abide by the regulations set forth by the OQLF. With the right translation partner, staying compliant with Canadian advertising laws is easy. To learn more, contact the TransPerfect Canada team or pay us a visit in Montreal, Quebec.

Advertising in English Canada

Although bilingualism still applies outside of Quebec, advertising laws in English Canada are quite similar to those in the United States. Despite the similarities, there are small, but notable differences between the two neighbors[iv].

  • Anti-Spam: Opt-In vs. Opt-Out
    • In Canada, consumers must voluntarily opt-in to marketing campaigns
    • In the U.S. the opposite is true, in which consumers must ask to be removed from campaigns
  • “New, Improved, and Introducing”
    • In Canada, buzzwords advertising the launch of a new product or campaign can be used for one year
    •  In the U.S. “introducing” can be used for 9 months, while “new” can be used for just 6
  • Made in Canada
    • A product carrying this claim must have at least 51% of production costs in Canada
    • A “Product of Canada” must have 98% of production costs in Canada
  • Giveaways and Lotteries
    • In Canada, a prize giveaway must include a skill-testing question of sorts (i.e., 5+2=?) A giveaway based solely on chance is considered an illegal lottery
  • Puffery
    • Boasts and farfetched claims about performance of a product or company must be backed up by some kind of proof. Laws are far stricter in Canada than the U.S. but there are loopholes[v]
  • National Symbols
    • Canadian flags, the iconic Maple Leaf, and any paraphernalia relating to the RCMP must receive permission to be used
    • Use of the American flag and associated imagery can result in a fine if done so improperly, but this rarely happens


Charter of the French language -








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