By virtue of the fact that Canada borders America, it is often assumed to be an extension of the U.S. Manufacturers who import into Canada's French-speaking provinces find out quickly that this is not the case.
Provinces such as Quebec, New Brunswick, and Manitoba offer vast opportunities for manufacturers but there are a important considerations with regards to product labeling and packaging before products can be sold across Canada.
Plush Text Communications recently posted an overview of Canadian labeling issues. The post pointed out that Quebec has some specific rules about translating the content and information that appears on your products and packages. Under the Quebec Charter of the French Language, most of the information on the product itself, the container (including product labels), outer packaging, and any accompanying warranties and technical manuals, must be included in French before the product can be sold to retail consumers.
This creates significant challenges for marketing and packaging professionals. When it's time to consider bilingual packaging, there are at least five areas to look at beyond government regulations:
- Consumer alienation
- Intellectual property
- Market expectations
On the regulatory front, Plush Text Communications' blog post mentioned a handful of items to keep in mind:
- In Quebec, wholesalers are exempt so the language requirements only apply to the retail market.
- In Quebec, product labels may also appear in English or another language, as long as French has equal or greater prominence in comparison to any other language.
- Certain types of products may be exempt from the language laws, including pet food, cosmetics, certain test market products, and some feeds, seeds, fertilizers and pest control products.
- Food, drug-related and other products may be managed under different federal statutes, such as the Food and Drugs Act or the Textile Labelling Act, and manufacturers should double check the language requirements for these products separately.
"The label was revised as a direct necessity to comply with the provisions of the Consumer Packaging Act and the Regulations thereunder. The additional verbiage added to ensure compliance therewith is to be disregarded. The addition of the additional wording necessitated a modification of the design to accommodate the language required to be added. This was done but in doing so the appellant exercised care to preserve the dominant features of its trademark."A further consideration for potential branders is the fact that bilingual trademarks must be utilized in both languages. In Gariepy Marrcoux Richard v Promotions Cobelli Ltee (1994), the owner had a bilingual trademark PASSEPORT EPARGNE/SAVINGS PASSPORT. However the English version of the trademark had never been used commercially and consequently the bilingual mark was expunged for lack of use. The decision reflects the reasoning that a bilingual trademark must be fully utilized.
In response to these challenges, Managing IP suggests that brand owners register trademarks in English and French separately, to comply with the Act and avoid any difficulties that could arise from a lack of use.
Despite the difficulties involved, it is important to realize the goodwill that accrues to manufacturers. The Canadian francophone population (just like everybody else) appreciates packaging, signage, and trademarks that incorporate its native tongue. Well, unless they're translated poorly, of course.
For further reading, take a look at:
- The 50-year history of language laws in Quebec
- The Office québécois de la langue française maintains extensive information concerning commercial documents (catalogs, directories, brochures, etc.), signage, and software
- Daryl Wisdahl offers insight and advice specifically for medical device companies
ForeignExchange Translations provides specialized translation services to drug and device companies - in Canadian French and dozens of other languages!