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.