April 26, 2005 12:27 PM   Subscribe

I have to design some labels for a product to be sold in, among other places, Quebec…

Now, as I interpret the Charter of the French Language Law, all the inscriptions on all the label(s) must be in both French and English and the typefaces of said inscriptions must be of equal size and weight. In theory, this is fine.
In practice, I find it hard to believe that companies (for whom packaging standardization across multiple markets is a real concern and potential cost-saver) follow this strict interpretation of the law.

Any Quebecois Mefites out there who can tell me if this regulation is strictly enforced? And, if so, any graphic designers (Canadian or those serving the Canadian market) out there who have found creative solutions to this issue?
posted by Chrischris to Law & Government (14 answers total)
I'm not Quebecois, but most products sold in Canada will have one single Canadian version, rather than one for Anglophone Canada, and one for Francophone.

Every single mass-market consumer product that I can see in the office right now does, in fact have every single piece of information on it in both French and English.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:38 PM on April 26, 2005

I would advise you to conform to this law if you want to sell your product in Quebec. You might have a look at this discussion.
posted by TimothyMason at 12:42 PM on April 26, 2005

Yes, language law in Quebec is strictly enforced. There was always a constant stream of articles in the Montreal Gazette about it when I lived there, although that was a lot closer to Referendum time -- but in that regard, keep in mind that these people were ready to separate from the rest of Canada over distinct language and culture. Language is a very big deal to the Quebec government and people.

If you don't offend your customers with nonconformant labels, you'll at least give your competitors a way to get your product off the shelves.

And yes, everything here is labeled bilingually -- it must seem odd, but it's very odd for me to see something not labeled thus, even in Ontario. In fact, some of the specialty food markets which sell imported packaged food often sell the food with a large sticker covering half of the original (American) label to provide a French version.
posted by mendel at 12:50 PM on April 26, 2005

The enforcers of the language laws there can be very heavy handed. Blendz coffee wasn't allowed to use "blendz" in it's signage because it wasn't French. A shop keeper had made up signs for fruits and vegetables with some English on them and he was forced to remove the English and so on. The rules are definitely enforced. They are even started going after a Quebec business who has a web site and demanding those be in French as well.

This isn't just relevant to Quebec, English and French must be on all packaging regardless of the province it is sold in - they just monitor and enforce the law(s) more carefully there.
posted by squeak at 12:53 PM on April 26, 2005

As others have noted, believe it. Sometimes it's one side for English and the opposite for French, or they'll have a French and English blurb on the same side. Other times they'll run it together, so you get "tomato KETCHUP aux tomates," or La Tour CN Tower, or Centre du Eaton Centre.

It's a market as big as California, so it's worth making locally-compliant labels.

You can see some standardization at work if you look for it. Some stuff gets sold in the US with Canadian-compliant packaging -- not a big percentage, probably, but you probably buy at least one Canadian-OK item per week or two. Maybe that's some weirdo local thing though, but I can't imagine why they'd single out north Texas for that. I get why the paper towels say "ROLLO GRANDE!" too, but Fronch?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:59 PM on April 26, 2005

A tip, if your product name is English: hide a little descriptor word in French, above the logo. This is extremely common - for instance, Second Cup becomes Les cafés Second Cup.
posted by Marquis at 1:00 PM on April 26, 2005

*they are even starting to go after businesses that are based in Quebec who have web sites that are not in French

(Holy grammer screw up! I can't believe I missed that.)
posted by squeak at 1:06 PM on April 26, 2005

Response by poster: Just to clarify: the company for whom I am doing this work already has standardized tri-lingual (English, French, Spanish) packaging guidelines to which we strictly adhere.

What I am interested in determining is this hypothetical: If I were to design a label in which the English phrase "Phillips Screwdriver" were set in, say, Helvetica Condensed Bold 36pt., and the French version, "Tournevis cruciforme" was located directly below it on the label and set in, say, Helvetica Condensed Bold 24pt., would the average resident of Quebec have a problem with this packaging? What about if the phrases were set in the same face and weight, but the English was in a different color, or had a band of color behind it (to make it "pop") that the French phrase lacked. What, or who, if anyone, arbitrates these questions and determines what exactly inscription in another language may be given greater prominence than that in French. means in practice? I've come across no resource online or via my legal department that can answer these questions, and it is driving me crazy...
posted by Chrischris at 1:10 PM on April 26, 2005

Best answer: The French language, from what I recall of Bill 101, must be MORE prominent than any other language. The existence of English labelling on the package is more to do with other trade laws in Canada than Bill 101. This law exists only in Quebec, and is in violation of the Charter of Canadian rights (but Quebec exempts themselves from the Charter every 5 years, so they are permitted to violate the law in this manner).

I sell plenty of goods labelled in English only in Ontario, Canada and I've never had the RCMP tell me the goods aren't marked for sale in Canada (although I did once have a border guard tell me that -- I think next time I'll bring a magic marker with me and add the word "La" or "Le" in front of the product name). Hmmm, perhaps I can rummage the Federal law up on the internet somewhere. I'm guessing they only apply officially to food products and anything sold to Quebec, since I for a fact know the government would love to bust the company importing these products on ANYTHING... if they could. :-) [Note: They're probably exempted as "produit spécial".]

Ahh, yes, here's the relevant Federal law. And here's the regulations.

Just another reason doing business in this country absolutely SUCKS... grumble grumble
posted by shepd at 1:13 PM on April 26, 2005

shepd: French must be more prominent on signs, not on packaging.

chrischris: The average Quebecer who wants your screwdriver probably won't care, but it only takes one complaint to lead to an investigation, and the shop owner might want to avoid the possibility in the first place.

If you need legal advice on selling products in Quebec, I'd strongly recommend retaining counsel in Quebec. Remember, they don't even use the same legal system as the rest of Canada and the United States (civil law instead of common law).

(Also it occurs to me that another reason American companies won't use American packaging in English Canada is that they need to provide metric measurements as well.)
posted by mendel at 1:28 PM on April 26, 2005

Best answer: Oh, I missed the direct question! Sorry.

What, or who, if anyone, arbitrates these questions and determines what exactly inscription in another language may be given greater prominence than that in French. means in practice?

L'Office québécois de la langue française.
posted by mendel at 2:04 PM on April 26, 2005

What I am interested in determining is this hypothetical: If I were to design a label ... would the average resident of Quebec have a problem with this packaging?

Au contraire (that's about the extent of my French), this is not at all what you are interested in determining. Or at least, it shouldn't be. What average Quebecois think has no relevence at all to whether your product will be pulled from the shelves for breaking the law.

I don't work with packaging, I'm not even sure that Bill 101 applies to packaging. But in all other areas of enforcing their language laws, the Quebec government is extreme sticklers for accuracy and detail. If those pixels are defined in the law, do not try to cheat them.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:17 PM on April 26, 2005

Better believe they apply it. The girlfriend managed a Ben & Jerry's for a few years and the cartons of ice cream coming across the border were held up repeatedly because the writing on them was only in english, and these were just the big plain cartons of ice cream that the scoopers used, not the little pint cartons.

AFAIK (and IANAL), law 101 doesn't apply to products itself but to outdoor advertising, although there are laws about bilingualism for products as well.
posted by furtive at 2:22 PM on April 26, 2005

A few things to keep in mind. The law varies on the rules for signage and packaging, don't mix them up. As mentioned, in signage the french must "markedly predominant." Which means it needs to be bigger in terms of font size. For packaging it's equal billing, or so you claim.

The only exception that I know of is trademarks which do not need to be translated. Hence why "Ben & Jerry's", for example, is still "Ben & Jerry's" and not "Chez Ben et Jerry". Places like the above mentioned "Les Cafe Second Cup" are adding the prefix to their trademark name not by legal obligation but by choice.

Now as to the question at hand: "if this regulation is strictly enforced?" I can tell you for signage it's hit or miss since anyone can put up a sign anywhere. As long as no complaint is filed and no inspector notices you'll be fine. Yes, L'Office québécois de la langue française has Language Inspectors that roam the land looking for breaches of signage law. I'm not sure they check packaging but they may. I suspect packaging is easier to scrutinize at the boarder so it's probably more strictly enforced.

As to your comment: "In practice, I find it hard to believe that companies (for whom packaging standardization across multiple markets is a real concern and potential cost-saver) follow this strict interpretation of the law." I'll just add that there are quite a number of companies that simply do not exist in Quebec simply because they weigh the cost of compliance with both the signage law and the packaging law against the potential market revenue and decide not to bother. As an example, I have never had Taco Bell, though I'm told I'm missing nothing, simply because they do not exist in Quebec (to my knowledge). I've seen em in Ontario. Another example is Blockbuster. I believe Blockbuster invaded every Canadian province except Quebec. They eventually got here but only after they had blighted the rest of the land.

Bill 101 isn't the only bill dealing with language in Quebec. I think packaging law is in a seperate bill.
posted by cm at 3:19 PM on April 26, 2005

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