Français, s’il vous plaît – Air Canada fined for not using French onboard flight

September 9, 2019

2 min read

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What's going on here?

A couple who sued Air Canada will now receive 21,000 Canadian dollars (£12,900) and an apology for the violation of the Official Languages Act 1969. This act stipulates that both English and French are the ‘official’ languages of Canada and therefore both should be accommodated on in-flight signage and during announcements.

What does this mean?

The couple, Michel and Lynda Thibodeau, had filed 22 complaints in 2016 against the airline. They complained that signs on the flight were either only in English, or did not give the French version enough prominence/clarity.

For example, the French translation of “exit” was in a smaller font and the word “lift” was engraved on the seat belt buckle in English only.

They also argued that the English boarding announcement was more thorough than the French version.

What's the big picture effect?

Initially, the ruling (and especially the damages) seem quite extortionate for such a case. Although, the court found the airline liable for the couple’s complaints, and so the amount of complaints may have increased the award. Nonetheless, an award of such a high sum would most likely act as a cautionary tale for other airlines who may not be abiding but such rules, and to ensure that Air Canada begin changing their signs.

During the case, the airline argued that the couple was interpreting the Official Languages Act too strictly. Arguably, not having signage in French when it is regarded as an equal language would count as a violation of the act. However, finding a violation where signs may display the French translation in a smaller font, may be too strict of an interpretation. Although both languages are to be “equal”, there is no stipulation that they must be displayed in such a way. If the font is still of a size that can be read easily, there may not have been a violation.

In this case, there was an act to specify that there are two “official” languages. However, in countries where there may not be an official act, but there are many languages spoken, such an action could lead to ridiculous results.

Do you think the action against the airline or the reward was fair? Or, do you think this was potentially an exemplary case to avoid something similar happening again?

Report written by Harina Chandhok

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