Big Retailers Face New Language Rules In Quebec

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Some of the world's largest retailers are fighting for the right to keep their identity intact after Quebec's French-language watchdog demanded they rework their brand names to fit the French-language charter. (Getty Images) | Getty Images

Some of the world's largest retailers are fighting for the right to keep their identity intact after Quebec's French-language watchdog demanded they rework their brand names to fit the French-language charter.

Costco, Best Buy, Gap, Old Navy, Guess and Wal-Mart have asked Quebec's superior court whether the Office Québécois de la langue française (OQLF) has the right to demand such changes to their trademarks.

The OQLF wants businesses to add French generics to their trademark, something many other retailers have done in recent years after solid crackdowns by French-language authorities.

French generics can be terms to help describe the service or product sold by the retailer or descriptive terms added under a trademark name. For example, the Second Cup coffee chain recently added "les cafés" before its name in order to comply with language laws.

Nathalie St-Pierre, vice-president of the Quebec Retail Council of Canada, said the businesses believed they were in compliance with the law for the last 20 years but were surprised by the OQLF's warning.

She said the issue is the way the French-language watchdog applies its requirements to different retailers on a case-by-case basis.

"The issue is how do we go about doing this and do we have rules that are clear and that are applicable to all in the same manner, which is not the case currently," said St-Pierre.

St-Pierre said the OQLF should consider applying solid rules rather than demanding particular changes to different stores.

She said infractions can cost businesses between $3,000 and $20,000 in fines and repeat offenders can be charged even more.

Stores could also see their certificate of francisation confiscated — the certificate that confirms the work environment abides to current provincial language rules.

According to a news release issued by the OQLF in August 2011, French-language officials will not force businesses to translate their names, but would rather demand they add French slogans or descriptive titles to their current titles.

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