FRENCH IS SEEN MORE ON THE WEB

March 6th, 2015

The obligations of companies running commercial activities in Quebec

GILLES SEGUIN | Montreal

The posting rules of the Charter of the French Language regarding a web site, also known as Bill 101, may often give rise to interpretation, which unfortunately varies between the positions of the Office Québécois de la Langue Française (OQLF) and the court decisions. For people trying to start a business in Quebec, it can be very confusing.

Products and services sold in Quebec and announced on the web site of a company based in the province have to mandatorily be advertised in French. However, for a subsidiary company based in Quebec but for which the headquarters are located outside of the province, the obligation of translating its web site depends, in each case, of the ‘‘ important and true link with Quebec’’.

Concretely, it is not the origin of a company, or the product it is selling or the geographical position of the Internet server hosting the web site that determines if the law applies, but the targeted market of the company. This way, the OQLF can demand that a company located outside of Quebec translate into French the content of its website concerning the Quebecois market, and this, even if the company does not have an office or a subsidiary in the province.

For instance, hotel booking sites have to be translated in French if Quebecois establishments are involved in offering services.

In this connection, it is the merchant’s decision to offer his or her website in French or in any other languages or to prepare 2 different versions of his or her website.

Do the interested companies have to translate the whole of their web site?

Not necessarily. If a company only has one website for all of its subsidiaries around the world, the OQLF demands that the entire website be translated. However, if the main website of a company redirects clients to the website of each individual subsidiary, only the part of the website concerning the province of Quebec has to be translated into French.

The OQLF has no right to demand a French version for a company’s website section that does not concern Quebec territory, under the condition that all sections of the website be easy to distinguished. Here is a good way to illustrate that principle: if the information concerning Quebec can be found in the ‘’ north-American’’ section of the website, this section should then be entirely translated, even if certain informations do not concern the French province.

Also, in order to comply with the Charter, it is impossible to include hyperlinks to other English sections of a company’s main website without translating the content of these sections into French. The OQLF can act on its own initiative to sanction a company who does not offer Quebecois clients French information on products and services, but it is generally a complaint from the public that draws the attention of the inspectors. If a moral person does not respect the Charter, he or she is liable to a fine between 1500 $ and 6000$ for a first offence. In the event of a repeated infringement the amount is doubled.