A Federal Court in Montreal has ordered Air Canada to pay $21,000 to a French-speaking couple in Quebec for violating their language rights.
Lynda and Michel Thibodeau filed 22 complaints against Air Canada in 2016, alleging violations under the Official Languages Act, which established French and English as equal official languages in Canada.
Among the complaints:
- Emergency exit signs are either exclusively in English or the English text is larger than the French text.
- Seatbelts are engraved with the word “lift” but not the French equivalent
- Airport announcements in French are not as detailed as those in English
Thus, the lawsuit alleged Air Canada violated the linguistic rights of francophones.
Air Canada argued the law only requires it treat the two languages in a “substantially similar” way, not identically. On the seatbelt latch, for example, it offers full instructions on how to use it in French during the preflight safety briefing.
But Federal Court Justice Martine St-Louis, a francophone herself, did not buy Air Canada’s argument. Siding with the Thibodeaus, she ordered Air Canada to pay them $21,000 and offer them a written apology.
Air Canada has battled the Thibodeaus before—all the way up to Supreme Court of Canada—and prevailed. Expect an appeal in this case as well.
Admittedly, I’m tempted to snicker at the absurdity of this story. But I know there are Canadian lawyers and law students who read this blog, so instead of mocking, I’m curious: is this a proxy battle for the waning French identity of greater Canada? Or is there actually genuine confusion over how to detach a seatbelt or the location of the onboard exit?
image: Air Canada