Amici Curiae: Retailers Taking Quebec’s Language Laws to Court

A number of major multinational retailers operating in Quebec will be taking the province to court this week with the hopes of amending language laws that require business names be posted in French. Section 63 of the French Language Charter states that “The name of an enterprise must be in French.” Many violations are tracked by The Office Quebecois de la Langue Francaise, which has the mission of “making French the priority language in Quebec.”

The retailers include household-name corporations like Walmart, Costco, Best Buy, and Gap. They argue that their trademarked business names should be excluded from scrutiny under the Act, and that any new demands made by the Office must be passed as laws before they are enforceable. The minority Parti Quebecois government has been increasingly antagonistic in its handling of language issues in its attempt to increase the use of French throughout the province.

One of the demands being made by the Office is that companies adopt French slogans identifying their line of business, regardless of how identifiable the brand is in the consumer psyche. A marketing professor at Concordia commented that the strict enforcement of language requirements might slow business expansion in Quebec. It will be interesting to see how far this case goes, or if the companies will comply voluntarily as many others have.

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