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Air Canada fined for violating language rights

    The Canadian Federal Court has ordered Air Canada to pay to two airline passengers, a total amount of $21.000 CAD, for infringing their language rights. 

English and French languages in Canada
    The opposition between those two official languages is a constant issue. Therefore, in 1969, the government adopted the Official Languages Act (hereinafter referred to as “OLA”), which gives French and English equal status and proclaims them as official languages. This law established the Commissioner of Official Languages, which receives complaints from the public, undertakes inquiries, and makes recommendations. 

The linguistic right is a constitutional right, which was additionally recognized by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom (hereinafter referred to as “the Charter”).

What is the complaint about? 
    All in all, twenty-two complaints have been filed by two passengers of Air Canada, at the Commissioner of Official Languages, against the airline. The couple is claiming that the airline company is infringing systematically and recurrently their language rights, even though it is a principle protected by the OLA and the Charter.

Therefore, they request the federal court, to consider Air Canada responsible for the infringement of their linguistic rights. They require additionally a letter of apology and damages. They are also seeking to have the Court issue mandatory orders, which would require Air Canada to use : 

  • signage for emergency exits on airplanes that complies with the language obligations set out in the [OLA]; and
  • a notice on airplane seatbelts that complies with the language obligations set out in the [OLA].”

What are the failures reproached? 

  • In some places, only the word “exit” appears.
  • When the word “sortie” (exit) is written, it is always in smaller characters than the English word, as with the word “avis” (warning).
  • The seatbelts have engraved “lift” in English, with no French-language equivalent.
  • The boarding announcement at Fredericton Airport is shorter in French than in English.

The airline argued the plaintiffs were interpreting the OLA too strictly, and that the law does not require to treat the two languages identically but in a substantially similar way. 

What is the court decision? 
    On the 27th of August 2019, the judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. It considered the unilingual or predominant English display, as well as the more complete boarding announcement in English, in breach of the Law.

It ordered Air Canada to pay the couple a total amount of $21.000 CAD in damages and to issue a formal apology. 
With regard to the request to issue mandatory orders, it wasn’t however accepted by the Court. The airline company had already made a commitment to comply.

It is not the first infringement of the language rights of this airline company: 105 complaints have been brought to the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages in 2018 against Air Canada.

The use of English and French language must be equal, in regard to the Law in Canada, as well in other countries. Eurolegal has a sensitive approach to such issues and subsequent experience in multi-language countries and would be willing to be of assistance should any such problem arises.