Air Canada Fined $12,000 for Not Speaking French to Passenger

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By Andrew Moran for Digital Journal

Ottawa – A federal court in Ottawa ruled that Air Canada must apologize to two Ottawa passengers and pay $12,000 after failing to provide the couple services in French. The judge ruled that the airline failed to follow the Official Languages Act.

During two Air Canada flights between Ottawa and the United States in the spring of 2009, Michael Thibodeau and his wife, Lynda, were refused service in French about eight times, including when the federal government employee asked for a 7-Up but was given a Sprite instead.

Following this incident, the couple launched a lawsuit with the federal court because of the language laws in Canada. A federal institution must offer their services in both English and French as part of the Official Languages Act.

On Wednesday, a Federal Court judge in Ottawa sided with the couple and ruled that Air Canada must remunerate the couple $12,000 and offer an apology, according to CTV News. The judge also ordered the airline to implement a system where it follows possible violations of its language duties – the former Crown Corporation retained its language obligations when it was privatized.

“The applicants’ language rights are clearly very important to them and the violation of their rights caused them a moral prejudice, pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of their vacation,” Justice Marie-Josee Bedard ruled. “It is also my opinion that awarding damages in this case will serve the purpose of emphasizing the importance of the rights at issue and will have a deterrent effect.”

Thibodeau defended his rights following the ruling and said that all he sought was his entitlement to be served in French.

“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,” said Thibodeau, reports the Globe and Mail. “I was not asking for anything other than what I was already entitled to. I have a right to be served in French.”

The couple was originally suing for $25,000 each and $500,000 in punitive damages, but the judge said that although the problem is systemic, they are trying to meet its language obligations and were not nefarious.

Thibodeau said he was disappointed with the amount, but is happy that the court recognized that “our rights were violated on several occasions.”

An Air Canada spokesperson refused to comment on the court’s decision.

This isn’t the first time that Thibodeau has taken legal action against Air Canada over its language services. In 2000, he launched a lawsuit after a flight attendant did not serve him in French during a flight between Ottawa and Montreal, reports the Ottawa Citizen.

He was then honoured by the French-language rights group, Imperatif Francais.