Labelling products that you sell in Canada can be a challenge because of the need to factor in the country’s two official languages — English and French. With very few exceptions, Canada’s Consumer Packaging and Labelling Regulations require you to list certain label items in both languages — and if you don’t comply, you’re subject to legal action and possible fines. Making sure that your labels are in compliance helps you protect your business and keeps your products safely in the marketplace.
What information do I need to include on my labels?
Canadian laws require that all of your product labels contain three mandatory things:
- Product identity: What the product is or what it is used for
- Product net quantity: The volume, weight, or number of pieces
- Dealer’s name and principal place of business: Your company name and main location
Canadian laws mandate that you include the first two items in both English and French. You have the option of displaying your company name and location in either language. This rule is particularly important for the product identity. If you’re selling gift wrap, the French version, "papier d’emballlage", also has to appear on the product.
If you sell food products, you also need to include the following information in both languages:
- List of ingredients and allergens
- Nutrition Facts table
- Durable life date
- Claims about health, organic status, nutrients, and additional nutritional information
Exemptions and Special Cases
There are some exemptions to the dual-language laws. What happens if the name of the product is already bilingual? Take cologne — the word itself is French, but it’s also commonly used in English to describe the same product. Therefore, you can simply use cologne without finding an English translation.
When it comes to quantity, you must use both English and French unless you are using only numbers and metric symbols. If you’re labelling a bag of dog food, for instance, you only need to put "5 kg" once on the package, since numbers and kilograms are considered bilingual. Do you want to spell out the units? Be prepared to include it in both languages: "5 kilograms" and "5 kilogramme."
Understanding Legibility and Display Panels
Canadian labelling laws encourage you to include English and French information in the same size font, but it is not required. As long customers can read both items, and the text meets the law’s minimum size requirements, your labels are compliant. That means that if your customers are mainly English speaking, you can include the French equivalents in a smaller typeface.
In most cases, the law says that you should display both English and French information on the main display panel of your label. However, if your packaging has another panel that’s the same size and prominence as the main panel, you can put one language on each panel. You can group the English and French versions separately or alternate them.
What about Quebec?
Quebec has its own labelling requirements. Since Quebec’s main language is French, all your products sold there require information in French that’s equal or greater in prominence than the information given in English or other languages. All information you include in English also has to appear in French. If you sell toys or games that use any language other than French, Quebec won’t allow you to distribute them unless there’s a French-language version already on the market.
Product labelling in Canada can be more complicated than in most monolingual countries. Learning the ins and outs of Canada’s unique labelling laws and requirements helps you to protect your company from legal hassles and keeps your products on the market.