One brokerage firm is already feeling the impact of the imminent tightening of Bill 101. It has been asked to provide a French version of the commercial P&C contract. The industry is now worried that changes to the Charter of the French Language willaffect brokers’ ability to offer products and serve their clients.

Bruno Fortin, president of J. Gérard Fortin et Associés, received a letter from the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) on November 4, following a consumer complaint about the language of the firm’s insurance policy. “Let’s just say I could have done without it,” he told Insurance Portal a few weeks later.

“We’re having a hard enough time finding insurers in Québec,” Fortin adds. The identity of the customer who filed the complaint was not disclosed, but the broker was told that the professional liability policy was issued by CFC Underwriting, a London-based insurer.

“The wording is more comprehensive at CFC than the same products found here. On the premium side, they are often much less expensive than other insurers,” Fortin points out.

A premium of $1,000 or $1,500 per year may be $2,500 with another insurer. Coverage is often higher, the broker adds. “As an insurance broker, I must offer the customer the best product. Unfortunately, my code of ethics does not state that I must offer the product in French,” Fortin says.

The OQLF informed Fortin that he could not offer the product if no French version is available. “When we have to go to the London market for this type of product, for really specific stuff, yes, the policy is written in English. Coverage is not limited to Quebec or Canada; the customer is protected all over the world,” the broker explains.

For example, a liability policy may cover a professional designer for a computer product used abroad, such as an e-commerce application. Policy holders “won’t have to worry about not being able to accept an assignment because of insufficient insurance coverage,” he says.

The OQLF gave the firm four weeks to respond to the complaint. Bruno Fortin sent Insurance Portal a copy of his response to the Office. The text was written with help from Éric Manseau, Director General of the RCCAQ.

“The situation of the commercial insurance market remains very difficult: Numerous restrictions for certain markets or business sectors, a considerable increase in premiums, conditions that are put businesses at a disadvantage (increase in the deductible amount, reduced coverage, etc.), not to mention a decline in the number of insurance companies offering products and services to Quebec businesses,” the broker continues. 

“As P&C insurance brokers, we make every effort to find the best insurance coverage for our clients. In this case (and many others), the insurer found is often the only one willing to insure the customer, and sets the terms. Without insurance, customers may be forced to close up shop.”

Fortin said he will certainly follow up with the insurer regarding the translation of the policy that is the subject of the complaint.

Changes  

The Minister of Justice and the French Language, Simon Jolin-Barrette, tabled Bill 96 amending the Charter of the French Language last spring. Following specific consultations this past fall, Bill 96 has been under clause-by-clause consideration before the National Assembly’s Committee on Culture and Education (CCE) since late November.

Soon after the bill was introduced, the insurance industry began to express concerns about the new contract language requirements.

The Regroupement des cabinets de courtage d’assurance du Québec (RCCAQ) submitted a brief as part of these specific consultations. It is particularly worried about the reduction in competition, together with the costs associated with translation.

RCCAQ communications director Brigitte Guay summarized the efforts made since the submission of this brief to raise the government’s awareness of the impacts of the proposed changes, particularly in the area of commercial insurance.

Often, commercial insurance contracts are in English because the insurers are headquartered outside Quebec but are accredited and recognized by the Autorité des marchés financiers, the RCCAQ notes. “A requirement to translate contracts into French would drive many foreign insurers to exit the already weakened Quebec market,” explains Guay.

The withdrawal of foreign insurers might trigger loan recalls for Quebec SMEs, for example. Some small businesses may fail, and others may suffer significant losses of contracts, the RCCAQ adds.

The Group does not deny that it is essential to protect French in Quebec. “Nevertheless, the protection and promotion of the French language must not be done at the expense of small businesses in the province. We will always support measures to protect the French language that do not hinder the efforts of Quebec SMEs,” says the RCCAQ.

Article 55  

The letter the OQLF sent to broker Bruno Fortin cites the obligation set out in section 55 of the Charter concerning the language of contracts of adhesion. It is already against the law to offer the public such a contract if there is no French version. For now, the Charter provides that such contracts may be drafted in another language if that is the express wish of the parties. 

The amendments foreseen by Bill 96 notably concern section 55 of the Charter. For example, section 44 of Bill 96 changes the wording of section 55 as follows: “The parties to such a contract may be bound only by its version in a language other than French if, after examining its French version, such is their express wish. The documents related to the contract may then be drawn up exclusively in that other language.”

Parliamentary business  

The changes proposed by Bill 96 have not yet taken effect. The draft legislation is proceeding through the parliamentary process at a snail’s pace.

After five sessions between November 23 and December 9, 2021, the CCE has reviewed 6 out of 201 sections of the bill. At press time, no new work sessions for Bill 96 were posted on the committee’s schedule.