Air Canada Sued For Not Being French Enough (Again)

Filed Under: Air Canada

Canada is a bilingual country, and there are laws requiring English and French to be given equal prominence, including in many aspects of business.

This brings us to a recent court ruling based on a lawsuit filed against Air Canada, which sure is an interesting one. A court has ordered Air Canada to pay a French-speaking couple 21,000 CAD and write them a letter of apology for violating their linguistic rights.

The Ontario couple, Michel and Lynda Thibodeau, filed 22 complaints against the airline in 2016. Among them, they complained that:

  • Some of the signs on a domestic flight they took were only in English, while others had the French language featured less prominently
  • The word “lift” that is engraved on the seatbelts was in English but not French
  • French translations of “exit” were in smaller characters
  • The English language boarding announcement was more thorough than the French version

The judge ruled in favor of the couple, and Air Canada told the court that they would make the necessary updates, including replacing signs.

Interestingly this isn’t the couple’s first lawsuit against Air Canada. They had also filed complaints against the airline based on three flights taken between January and March of 2009:

  • They had asked for 7Up in French, but the flight attendant served them Sprite instead
  • Allegedly there was no translation of an announcement made by the pilot about the arrival time and weather for one of his flights

Even that wasn’t their first lawsuit against Air Canada. Prior to that, in 2000, they were allegedly refused service in French while trying to order a 7Up from a flight attendant who didn’t speak French on a flight from Montreal to Ottawa.


I understand where the couple is coming from, in the sense that if you’re going to have laws requiring a country to be truly bilingual, there have to be people pointing out the flaws and keeping them honest.

At the same time, creating a system where there’s such potential personal gain for situations like this seems inappropriate as well.

In the past the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favor of the couple, but also stripped them of monetary damages, so I’m curious to see if the monetary damages are overturned this time.

  1. Unbelievable! At the same time go to Quebec and you’ll find everything in French only because they say that French is their only language. I had a hard time getting around with English in some places other then my visits at Parcs Canada. Sorry, how can it be right that French ist the sole official language in Quebec but everyone else has do do everything in French?

  2. I, too, understand where the couple is coming from-they’re scam artists and Air Canada and the courts are enablers.

  3. Just another couple trying to make money because of french and english wording, im curious as to how many times they must have been helped to unbuckle there seat belt on other flights since im sure they dont know how to do it themselves , Idiots !! Oh lets help them here for next time 7 up is sprite , a litle sweeter but not them for sure, thanks for upping the prices of air canada so they can recoup there losses thru real customers . Buy your darn 7 up before boarding, p.s Love air canada and never have had an issue with them, keep em flying gang

  4. Good grief. How exhausting it must be to spend your entire life fighting. These two have been nothing but attention seeking cry babies for a long time. Here’s my suggestion; move to rural Quebec and be surrounded by nothing but French. Quit wasting taxpayer funded court resources to satisfy your egos.

  5. The Anglo Canadians with the Quebecois are like the English with the Scots Nationalists, they support them yet only get insults. Better off all around to dissolve these unions with ungrateful communities who only undermine them and would be happier on their own.

  6. Not sure why they are not placed on a no fly list for AirCanada.
    They should be told to F-off and take their business elsewhere (in French, of course).

  7. Canadian language law is very strict and very clear. If AC doesn’t comply with Canadian laws there should be sanctions. Period.

  8. As a Canadian (non french speaking) this makes me very upset, these two are scam artists and clearly have nothing better to do – first case was suing AC when the FA gave them a spite instead of a 7up….I’m also surprised they have not been placed on a no fly list and should go live in rural Quebec – but no they clearly exist to cause drama because they are just miserable human beings – nobody who is content would go the lengths these two have. Disgusting – this is not how the rest of Canadians behave.

  9. As Deaf passenger, I don’t have any access that much during the announcements. Many times crew gave me the wrong drink, I always request for the correct beverage. Did I sue all the airlines? If I do that, I would have a house in Malibu by now. It makes me sick to see how people sue for such a little reasons. #scamartists

  10. The irony is that French speakers from metropolitan France think Quebec French is revoltingly bad, and would rather the Quebecois just take up English instead of mangling the mother tongue! Not my opinion (I don’t understand French). That’s coming from my French colleagues. All of them.

  11. I’m suing the entire population of Alabama. As a Jersey native, I don’t understand half of their version of English, with those ridiculous accents. Shame on you, Southerners! I want compensation too!

  12. Every country has ridiculous parts of their culture: Canada has this and curling. On balance, a wonderful country.

  13. As Shaun says, Québécois is understood only with difficulty by many French people. In France: Québécois Movies are subtitled into French

    Similar to Welsh English vs American English.

    I’m ambivalent about this story.
    No question this couple is either opportunists, or activists

    Don’t like this, then change the law.

    Lastly, not sure how sprite vs 7Up relates to language.
    Same issue would happen if both parties were English speakers

  14. Can I sue an airline that serves me Coke when I asked for Pepsi?

    Also, I’ve really never noticed a variety of language on seat belt buckles. Are there carriers that have them stamped in other languages?

  15. Je vais voyager au Québec et poursuivre en justice toutes les entreprises qui ne donnent pas la même présentation en anglais

  16. Furthermore if you live in British Columbia the citizens of Quebec should impose “their” language on you. Just as they have –
    absolutely no right to impose it on the indigenous population.
    Tabernac. Les angryphones

  17. This couple isn’t Québécois as what everybody in the comment section are saying, they are Franco-Ontarien. But nonetheless, this lawsuit is ridiculous. I understand the signage issue, as that actually could be a safety hazard for some people. But the complaints about the crew not speaking French, annoys me. Canada is an extremely diverse country, and Air Canada does try to hire applicants bilingual in english and French, but they do substitute the French part for other languages such as Hindi, Punjabi, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, Japanese, Tagalog, Spanish, Portuguese, German, just to name a few. The population in Canada who solely speaks French is extremely minuscule. This couple is taking advantage of Air Canada for money and for publicity

  18. Clearly this couple is bilingual (fluent in English and French) and are simply punishing Air Canada, given they have a track record of doing this over and over. By all means, ensure Air Canada follows the law, but I think they are making a killing as self-proclaimed enforcers of Canada’s federal language laws ($21,000 is a nice payout for their work, n’est-ce pas?)

  19. @Wingslover: You are correct. It’s surprising that Canada’s flag carrier in 2019 hasn’t caught on. If the Francophiles in Canada don’t fight to ensure bilingualism is truly carried out, then what’s the sense. Already, demographic shifts the past 30 years point to either Mandarin, Hindi or Arabic overtaking French to become the second largest language in Canada. It’s very possible that these speakers will demand these replace French as the other official language of Canada.

  20. Ridiculous. I live in Switzerland which has four ‘official’ languages. You’d never see all four on a sign everywhere or spoken everywhere. I believe South Africa has eleven. Jeez i’d want to shoot myself listening to every announcement onboard translated eleven times.

    Saying that – it seems the law is at fault and the people that sued are in the right, legally. Canada has a ‘language equality’ law. Yet only 20% of the Canadian population speak it as a first language. So how can it be put on an ‘equal’ pegging with english? A bit of a daft law.

  21. Just to add as well….the Air Canada policy is not for all crew to be bilingual. The policy is for there to be a french speaker on each flight. So I don’t really get the Sprite/7up thing. The crew member they were dealing with didn’t undertstand french and doesn’t have to. There would however have been a french speaking crew member on the flight.

    It’s a bit like SAS. They used to have a requirement for there to be a mix of swede/danish and norwegian crew on every longhaul flight. Regardless of origin and destination. So a flight from Stockholm to New York couldn’t leave unless it had a speaker of each of the three scandinavian languages. Fast forward ten years and now they have crew based in spain that speak only english and spanish.

  22. I’m not astonished that they brought such a stupid lawsuit, but I am astonished that they’re getting a court-ordered apology while the 12-year old girl they stripped the hijab off of at the gate in SFO isn’t

  23. Some of the comments posted are quite off track. The language as spoken by Québécois and franco-Canadiens has evolved over time. Dialects and localisms abound there and in other parts of Canada and the US. So what? As for the constitutionally mandated equal status of French and English, only the federal government of Canada and the province of New Brunswick are officially bilingual: Not Quebec and not say, BC. And so, yes, agree or not, Air Canada has been found guilty of running afoul of it’s Canadian linguistic responsibilities. It is not for the majority to decide that the circumstances around the issue aren’t just. The couple may be taking advantage of the rules, but they are the rules. Lucky, perhaps your heading should have read “Air Canada Sued For Not Being Canadian Enough.” (Though I doubt that many of your posters would understand any of the realities contrary to their own personal opinions.)

  24. The law is the law but typical French speaker arrogance. Wish Quebec would separate from the rest of Canada and endure the economic and social collapse that would follow.

    There probably will be similar suits in the USA in the not too distant future for failure to provide equivalent communications in Spanish.

    Look to Belgium for what a language fractured country can be like.

  25. JJ

    When QUEBEC follows the language rules as stated in the complaint to the Supreme Court then it might be time to give this merde some airtime. People like you who say the law is the law and then totally ignore that the law is only applied to English speaking Canada raise my angst level.

    “Dear Boeing – Please add ‘elever’ to your seat buckle because two people in Quebec don’t understand what ‘lift’ means. Please retrofit every airplane ever built using uni-lingual seat belt buckles. Please make the seat buckle large enough so that both words are prominent and the same size.”

    Since Air Canada DOES NOT SERVE 7-Up what are these clowns doing complaining that it wasn’t served in French?

    This confirms that the Supreme Court of Canada are IDIOTS.

  26. Why should we be surprised with these 2 Bloodsuckers.We also find out now that they have been on welfare for The last 20 years

  27. It is not the law throughout the land in Canada that requires Air Canada to offer services in both official languages, it is the “Air Canada Public Participation Act” of 1985 when the government started the process of selling the airline to the private sector. As a part of this act is the “Official Languages Act” which requires all GOVERNMENT agencies to provide services in both official languages. Because Air Canada was a privately held government airline until their sale to the public market, the government wanted to ensure that they would continue to abide by the official languages act and made it a part of the conditions for the sale of the airline.

    Just for clarification of the requirements…

  28. I wonder if this couple could be labelled as vexatious litigants in order to prevent them from commencing any more court actions without getting the ok from a judge beforehand.

  29. So many Quebec-bashing comments and yet the people suing are from Ontario.
    And Air Canada follows federal laws which are voted in Ottawa, Ontario by the federal governement constitued of 75%+ non-Quebecers…

  30. I’m not Canadian but have family there. On a visit to Quebec from London, Ontario, and once in Quebec sightseeing, we found it very difficult to get around. It felt like we were in a world where English just doesn’t exist, period. I speak English, Spanish and Italian and understand some French but this was ridiculous. I’ve been to many different parts of Canada and saw more French language used on signage than most other countries. What stranglehold does Quebec have? It’s a ‘do as I say not as I do’ situation.

  31. FFS. I’m an Air Canada Super Elite. In years of flying hundreds of thousands of miles with them I have never come across a mainline crew (i.e.: non-Jazz or Sky Regional) that wasn’t at least English-French bilingual. It’s company policy.

    What people like this miserable litigious couple do – and I’ve witnessed it first hand – is order something in English or using a brand name (Canada Dry, for example) and then when the flight attendant says ‘OK here’s your ginger ale’, they get up in arms that they weren’t served in French, as if the FA was supposed to know.

    If you want to be served in French, make it clear that you do. Order that soda au gingembre or un sprite, s’il vous plait

  32. Baloney. Only New Brunswick is more bilingual than Quebec. What in the world does unilingual signage in a province, whether Quebec or say, Nova Scotia, have to do with the requirement that Air Canada is required to fulfill? What died the unofficial status of Spanish on the US have to do with the status of English and French in Canada? I do agree that Canadians should be served in their two national languages. I’d hate for flights to be totally in French from say, Montreal to Quebec City, and totally in English on flights from say, Toronto to Ottawa.

  33. I once had to report a Canadian EMBASSY abroad (not naming the country to spare shame to the violators) for not having signs in English – just Spanish and French. I pointed this out very nicley to the consul to no effect; finally, I had to make a formal complaint to the Official Languages Commission – and voilà – the embassy signs were now in the host country language, as well as in both official languages. It works all ways.

    The langauge rules are not onerous, really, and the quality of French on Air Canada is quite variable at times. It’s fair to say that the French-speaking FAs have uniformly excellent English, but that the inverse is often not the case. As a multilingual Canadian, may I say this is part and parcel of our national identity, strange as it may seem to outsiders. True: this couple may be profiting personally from it, but good for them. Rules are made to be followed. People opposing these rules are welcome to exercise their democratic rights and fundamental freedoms in effecting that change. In the meantime, the rules are in force.

  34. This is ridiculos. Although, as a Swiss resident I would not find Swiss (or any other Switzerland based airline) exemplary. Flight attendants all speak reasonable English plus their mother tongue. Period. So French speaking cabin crew would not usually be fluent in German and vice versa. Personally, I speak English with them, as the common denominator, but I certainly witnessed less polyglot passengers being out of luck … But nobody would litigate on that basis.

  35. @Andy

    Thank you for a touch of sanity in this insane country of ours.

    Having two official languages does mean we all have to be bilingual.

    Geographically only a small fraction of Canada speaks French so if you are truly bilingual you are lucky.

    I would also suspect that the number of unilingual Quebecois would be larger than the number of unilingual Anglais.

  36. Silly lawsuit but if French& English Languages are mandatory in Canada by law (the Maple syrup bottles i bought from Canada i written in English + French) then this couple are in their rights.

    I think it s a political thing which dates back from Charles de Gaulle supporting Quebec’s wish for independance and shouting in Quebec”Vive le Quebec Libre!”” .
    Canadian authorities then modified its constitution to acknowledge the use of both languages in Canada.
    Strange though that Air Canada does not recruit bilingal people.
    In Europe you can’t work for an airline if you don’t speak English on top of your mother tongue.

  37. As an ex-pat Canadian, I do not miss the language politics at all. The 7UP is the most absurd claim, as airlines pick the beverage company, and clearly AC is using Coke. If they had requested Pepsi (a favourite of French Canadians), they would have received Coca Cola. Given they are resident of Ontario, they no doubt speak fluent English. It is only the government that is required to provide services in both languages. If they take the TTC public transit in Toronto, everything is in English. The word Sortie is longer than Exit, so it makes sense that it is in a smaller point size to fit into a similar space. I hope the Supreme Court strips the financial aware, as it is absurd people like this can waste taxpayers’ resources over petty claims. Clearly their safety was not compromised, and that is what matters most.

  38. Here is the historical context everyone is overlooking. Air Canada was Government owned and therefore a part of the Government. When privatized, it was required *by law* to remain compliant with Canadian Federal Government language laws (Official Languages Act ), which was further underscored *by law* when Air Canada merged with Canadian Airlines (see Air Canada Public Participation Act
    R.S.C., 1985, c. 35 (4th Supp.) Section 10 – ). This law also requires, among other things, that the Head Office of Air Canada remain in metro Montreal (Section 6e). You can, of course, question whether this was ever appropriate or remains so today, and you can question whether the people involved are just being pains to make a point. But, there are differences here driven by history and law that go beyond just being able to speak French. Air Canada has a higher test due to their required compliance with the Official Languages Act.

  39. It’s interesting to note that seatbelts installed on Airbus planes assembled in France only have the word LIFT embossed on them.

    If the REAL French do something regarding the use of language, shouldn’t that be acceptable to the Pseudo-French in Canada? Would this same litigious couple file a similar complaint when seated in an Air France plane with exactly the same signage and seatbelts as on the Air Canada plane?

  40. @ Jay- You think that Jersey accents are understandable? They butcher English with an ignorant, white trash-sounding ghetto version. At least Southern accents are cute. Not to mention people from Alabama are nowhere near as rude as Jersey folks.

  41. Cases like the on i’m been reading is only big scams and on top that problema some body from court have some share.of 21.000.00

  42. I guess I’m about the only one who thinks this lawsuit is ok. AC is required to be bilingual and follow the official languages act. Whether the couple speaks English or not is irrelevant (as franco-ontariens they are surely fluent in both). Consider for a moment that if this were America, they’d be millionaires once “pain and suffering” were added to the original damages amount. Also, for those complaining about the relative lack of English in Quebec, it’s important to remember that it’s the federal government that is bilingual — provinces aren’t. Sure, it’s ridiculous that stop signs say “stop” everywhere in the world except Quebec, but it’s not as if you don’t know what you’re supposed to do.

  43. This couple should be blacklisted by air canada. They sued AC before in 2000 when served sprite instead of 7up. 2009 when there was no announcement in french with regards to a change in a baggage carousel These are frivolous claims and why are they awarded financial damages ??

    A cop told a jaywalker in Ottawa once it was illegal to speak English and he must speak french

    Would they force an indigenous Canadian to speak french ? Demand a visitor from outside Quebec include other provinces, to speak french ?

    Would they force a french national to speak québécois?

    Couple of money grabbing idiots

  44. You know the old saying about allowing a camel into the tent just to warm it’s nose? The same thing is happening in Canada with the Official Languages Act. First of all, P.E.T. said it was only to apply at the Federal level in parts of the country “where numbers warrant”, without defining that term. In Quebec, they decided that only municipalities with 50% English-speakers need to respect that term. With the current move towards an all-French province, I don’t know if that still applies. In this case of the Greedy Thibodeaus, they are part of the activists’ movement to force-feed French on a country that has less than 20% French-speakers & most of them in Quebec where English is outlawed. The Thibodeaus are possibly part of the extremists in Ontario who want this province to adopt Official Bilingualism, one step at a time. Have Ontarians heard about the private member’s bill 126? If not, please read Kelly Egan’s article in the Ottawa Citizen:
    When Quebec has already won the language law (where they are the majority) & French is the only official language; why don’t they just leave the Rest (Most) of Canada to function in English – the language of the vast majority? Running any government in two languages is VERY expensive & is totally unfair to the majority English speakers. Minority speakers should not be catered to at the expense of the unity of the country. If you don’t think that this will lead to greater disunity in Canada, you are not paying attention!!

  45. Another poster succinctly gave the reason for Air Canada’s requirement to provide bilingual services. It’s quite a stretch to say that Quebec functions fully in French, and the “rest of Canada” should do so in English, when constitutionally, that is simply not accurate. In any case, your rant is off-topic and quite out-of-date.

  46. Just to clarify a point in case in case anyone is still out there

    Just flew China Eastern PVG – YIC and the seatbelt buckle read “lift” with nothing else.

    Should charge those tossers court costs for their frivolous litigations

  47. I applaud these two for having the courage to stand up to Air Canada for its failure to comply with the law. I have been on Air Canada flights where there was no attempt to serve customers in French. I find a lot of Anglophones notice the presence of French signage, but they rarely notice its absence. If this verdict allows clients to be better served and encourages Air Canada to be more aware of its obligations, than I think we shall all be better off.

  48. Shaena Dean, Air Canada is probably more anglicized in Quebec than francicized anywhere else in Canada. Off-topic, as for provinces (in Canada, cities are creatures of the province they lie in), only New Brunswick is constitutionally bilingual. Given the status of the English language world-wide, it is clear that areas of other language groups will do what they can to avoid becoming another Louisiana or Manitoba, for example, where franco heritage has become little more than touristic delight.

  49. Why the Canadians haven’t cut the Quebecois loose and let them fend for themselves in their horribly accented form of French is beyond me.

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