I've once heard a Microsoft architect say that, in Quebec, program output must be in French, including the custom log output that would be used by service technicians in other countries who don't speak French or are Quebecois.

Apparently, it's in Bill 101 Article 5. If you read the document correctly (thanks Matthieu), Article 5 says

5. Consumers of goods and services have a right to be informed and served in French. 1977, c. 5, s. 5.

Is what the Microsoft technician saying correct?

Does this affect all output from a program, or just the output intended for a French-speaking audience (e.g., the logs in this case wouldn't apply)?

Is it only intended for government agencies (including contract work done for them), or does it affect private use and sale, as well?

  • 2
    Quebec has some strange language laws, so this could be true if the company is based there. Also, if it's a gov't site, then it probably has to be in both. Other than that however, it should not matter.
    – CaffGeek
    Jan 9, 2012 at 15:25
  • 15
    Limiting a question to a specific region of the world is not too localized: 8 million people live in Quebec. A question's too localized when a vanishingly small number of people would ever benefit from the question, making the question completely useless once answered, not whenever someone mentions a location.
    – user8
    Jan 9, 2012 at 17:51
  • 1
    I voted to close as too localized because it's only relevant to a small geographic area (Wolfram Alpha suggests Quebec is only 15% of the geographic area of Canada, and less than 1% of the world by my math), but it could also be off-topic since it applies to all careers within this limited geographic area and not exclusive to software developers.
    – Thomas Owens
    Jan 9, 2012 at 19:50
  • 1
    @RobZ That's an interesting idea: I do agree it's just touching the line of on-topicality here. Checking with them to see if it's something that'd work there.
    – user8
    Jan 9, 2012 at 20:18
  • 4
    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about how to comply with specific laws which is best answered by regulators and company lawyers.
    – user40980
    Sep 12, 2014 at 2:49

5 Answers 5


In Quebec, language law (bill 101) is enforced by the Quebec Board of the French Language. They have information on their website regarding many questions that are generally asked about the bill 101 and its consequences on business. They can be contacted for more details, and they are the authority in this matters.

I think those are the main points that can have an impact on a business in Quebec :

Bill 101, article 5 (Consumer part of the law) states :

Consumers of goods and services have a right to be informed and served in French.

Not translating something in your product that can be read by a consumer in Quebec opens the door for legal consequences. Most of the time, the board will let you correct the situation before going to court.

Bill 101, article 4 (Worker part of the law) states :

Workers have a right to carry on their activities in French.

This means that a worker working in Quebec with your sofware has a right to ask his employer to provide him a translated version (or even an alternative sofware) in french. If you are not employing anyone in Quebec, you are not concerned directly by this law. But your clients may be. A Quebec government agency will always ask you a french version for its workers. Business partners of quebec government agencies may as well be bound by the same requirements (a la GPL).

Yet again, the board will always give you some time to adapt your processes, especially if you are working in R&D, or have mainly english speaking clients / partners (french link - summary : there are recuring debates about the language used in R&D companies in Quebec like Bombardier Aerospace. Some of them have long running exemptions because of their activities and/or clients.).

  • So if the log is to be read by an employee, or the error message is to be shown to a user, it must be in French? But if it is to be read only by a vendor who is not in Quebec, it can be in English? And if an employee comes across it, they can ask for the software to be changed, and the employer will have some time to comply? Sounds pretty reasonable if so. [Adjusting my mental model as I type.] Jan 9, 2012 at 20:37
  • @KateGregory : That is how most of the software companies I know work with this law.
    – Matthieu
    Jan 9, 2012 at 20:51

It depends on the company.

Canada does have two official languages, English and Canadian French (it is different). I have done an internship working for the Government of Canada, and I can tell you that everything was in both English and French. The site I was working on required the text to be the exact same in both languages which caused more than a few issues when something couldn't be said well in French, the English had to be changed so that it could be said in French.

Other companies, choose if they want to. I work for project based company right now, and some of our clients pay for the translation, and others don't. We set up all our applications so that the option of translation is easy to add, but it is up to the client to decide if they want to pay for the translation.

Unless you are building an application for Quebec (the French speaking province), or for the government, I think it's up to you how you do your custom log files.

  • Do you know anything specifically about output intended to be served to a non-French-speaking audience (i.e. the non Quebecois service technicians)?
    – user8
    Jan 9, 2012 at 18:33
  • 2
    @MarkTrapp - for the Government, I do believe all logs were both English/French. Most clients we work with just want user interface to be in both languages (to meet the law stated above). If there isn't a chance that a Francophone will see the text and want it in French, then don't go through the effort, IMHO.
    – Tyanna
    Jan 9, 2012 at 19:10

Agencies and departments of the Government of Canada should deliver software programs in both official languages for internal applications. External applications must be bilingual to the users. I have never seen any program requirement to deliver log messages that can only be seen by developers or IT staff in both languages. As always, it can be done, but it costs more money.

Provincial governments can choose to deliver public web services in English and French. Ontario, Quebec and I believe, New Brunswick, choose to do so. What they do for internal applications and logs I don't know.


I am not a lawyer, only a developer.

In my opinion, a logfile is not intended to be served to consumers. It is intended to be used by developers for debugging purposes.

As a consequence, french is not mandatory.

If you want to get out of all that, generate log files in binary form, so that only developers with appropriate tools can analyze them.

  • 5
    Technically, ASCII is just a binary format that a lot of people agree upon.
    – Malfist
    Jan 9, 2012 at 19:32

IANAL, but given the exact quotation, this is my interpretation:

The right to be informed and served in French doesn't mean that your logs must be in French. The intent of your logs is not to inform and serve your customer, but you (the service provider).

For example if I go into a restaurant in Quebec, the law states that I have a right to be served in French. This doesn't mean I can demand the chef's diary (which is pretty much the equivalent to your log) to be written in French.

What I can demand of you - as the Microsoft architect stated - is the program output to be French. From a customer's perspective, your logs are not output, much like the chef's diary in a restaurant it not its "output".

The program output is what it generates in order to provide the user of the software with the service it is intended for. The log is not part of that service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.