Canadian Court Rules Air Canada Violated “Linguistic Rights” Of A French Speaking Couple

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Air Canada has come under fire after some of its passengers complained about the airline running predominantly English services.

English-speaking staff and lack of French signage were to blame. Photo: Air Canada

We don’t often hear of airlines getting in hot water because of their language preferences, but when they decide to change things up it usually creates quite a stir. Earlier this month we reported that FlyBe had removed its Cornish translation on its Newquay to London service which caused a lot of friction on Twitter. Less than one month later, Air Canada is also receiving airtime for a similar complaint.

Duty to Francophones

Under the Official Languages Act, Canada is a bilingual country meaning that it is obligated to offer equal status to both English and French languages under Canadian Law. This means that all of its aircraft services must also be offered in the two languages.

However, the airline has now been ordered to cough up a fine of $21,000 CAD ($15,700 USD) for overlooking its duty to Francophones. Air Canada’s fine will be awarded to a French-speaking couple from Ontario, as well as a letter of apology, after they complained that Air Canada “systematically violates the linguistic rights of Francophones”, according to BBC reporting on the case.

The couple noticed inequalities on the cabin signage. Photo: Air Canada

The case was filed in 2016 when Michel and Lynda Thibodeau were on an inbound flight to Montreal and noticed that certain translations were omitted on signs. They also said that the boarding announcement was more detailed in English.

According to One Mile At A Time, Mr and Mrs Thibodeau filed 22 separate complaints, in which they noted that:

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  • the word ‘lift’ was only engraved on their seatbelts in English
  • translations of words, such as ‘exit’ were larger in English than they were in French.

Official documents from their court case stated that the couple demanded that Air Canada be held accountable for ensuring that lettering on seatbelts and emergency exits be kept in accordance with the law under the Official Languages Act.

Air Canada told the court that it would make the necessary changes after the ruling swung in favor of the couple. The airline’s fine was split up to award Mrs Thibodeau $1,500 CAD per complaint in damages to the sum total of $9,000 CAD. Air Canada was also ordered to pay Mr Thibodeau $12,000 CAD in damages accrued by the sum of complaints, charged at $1,500 CAD, according to the court documents.

The past has come back to bite

But this isn’t the first trouble that Air Canada has had with Mr and Mrs Thibodeau. The latest ruling is just one of an ongoing battle for the Thibodeau’s and their linguistic rights.

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Air Canada reportedly also has crew who don’t speak French. Photo: Air Canada

In fact, in 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that they could not sue the airline for an incorrect drinks order, having received a Sprite after they had asked their air hostess for a 7Up. Whilst they won in Federal Court and were awarded $6,000 CAD each, they lost on appeal and the Supreme Court ruled that the airline offer them an apology instead.

And back in 2000, the couple were reported to have asked for a 7Up on another flight from Montreal to Ottawa but were refused service by staff who didn’t speak French. Sacré bleu! 

Air Canada might need to get its act together fast before it faces more criticism from other passengers like the Thibodeau’s. It’s recently made headlines for leaving a passenger on a plane and with its new route between Toulouse and Montreal, could it be setting itself up for another attack?

Air Canada was not available for comment on this matter.

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