In Canada, there are two official languages: English and French. The government and certain private organizations are obliged to provide service in both languages, according to law. Air Canada, as a former Crown corporation, is subject to these language laws, with all passengers entitled to service in the language of their choice. So even if the customer is bilingual and the inability of the service staff to speak French does not impede the customer’s ability to order an in-flight refreshment, Air Canada is still in violation of the language laws.
This is exactly the premise that brought Michel and Lynda Thibodeau to court, suing Air Canada for $25,000 each in compensation plus $500,000 in “punitive damages” because there was no French language service available on their Air Canada Jazz flights in the spring of 2009. Michel Thibodeau, who is fully bilingual, claimed that not only did no flight attendant speak French, they were also “arrogant,” and in one instance gave him a Sprite when he ordered a 7-Up.
This is not Thibodeau’s first run at Air Canada: He also sued them in 2000 for similar breaches. “If I take a flight and I’m not served in the language of my choice, and I don’t do anything about it, then my right is basically dead,” Mr Thibodeau stated.
Air Canada has admitted to occasions where French language service was not available on certain flights. Citing that Air Canada did, indeed, violate the rights of the Thibodeaus, the court awarded them $12,000 in compensation – the lower amount because the judge felt that Air Canada has tried to meet its language obligations and is neither “malicious nor oppressive.” The judge did order Air Canada to quickly implement “a proper monitoring system and procedures to quickly identify, document and quantify potential violations of its language duties.”
The Thibodeaus are unlikely to stop their campaign of seeking out language violations. While they are certainly taking on the appearance of simply being thorns in the side of Air Canada, they do have a significant point. If a corporation is obliged to provide services in both official languages, they should do exactly that.
Photo Credit: MPD01605 on Flickr.
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