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Quebec's New Bill Means Businesses Could Get Sued For Not Serving Customers In French

Customer complaints to the OQLF could lead to "civil recourse."
Quebec's New Bill Means Businesses Could Get Sued For Not Serving Customers In French

The CAQ's French-language reform bill, aka Bill 96, would implement a new system allowing customers to report Quebec businesses that don't serve them in French to the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) — potentially even leading to a civil lawsuit for businesses with more than five employees.

"We want to encourage and invite businesses to ... provide information in French in the context of businesses," said French Language Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette at a May 12 press conference

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"Therefore, a person who is refused service in French could file a complaint with the OQLF or could turn to a civil remedy."

While anyone can currently file a complaint with the OQLF, Jolin-Barrette said "there was no possibility of recourse."

However, Jolin-Barrette said he doesn't think it would be customers who'd sue companies individually.

He said the OQLF will "accompany" businesses that are the subject of complaints to "bring about a change" and ensure that, going forward, customers are served in French.

A lawyer weighs in

Virginie Bourgeois-Plante of Devichy Lawyers told MTL Blog that it's not yet clear how the law, if passed, could be applied in this context.

"What we have right now is that the OQLF [goes through] the penal court. What that law [does] is it opens the door to civil suits [...] but in the end, the courts might see it differently," she said.

"Often, you put an amount of money on that," Bourgeois-Plante said, but she noted it could be difficult to determine how much customers should be compensated through civil lawsuits in those situations.