The Canadian Federal Court has ordered Air Canada to pay a French-speaking couple a total of $21,000 CAD ($15,700 USD) in damages over a series of complaints that alleged the airline violated their language rights – including an accusation the word ‘Lift’ which is engraved on seatbelts wasn’t also engraved in French. Another complaint claimed the emergency exit signs were smaller in French than English.
Michel and Lynda Thibodeau made a total of 22 complaints against Air Canada following a flight they took with the airline in 2016, alleging the carrier was flouting the requirements of the Official Languages Act. Around 20% of the Canadian population are native French speakers and since 1969 both English and French have been given equal status in Canadian law.
The Thibodeau’s told the court that Air Canada “systematically violates the linguistic rights of Francophones”. The complaints raised by the couple included:
- The French word for ‘EXIT’ (‘SORTIE’) was written in smaller characters than its English equivalent
- So too was the French word for ‘Warning’ (‘Avis’) beside the Emergency Exit doors
- The word ‘Lift’ engraved on seatbelt buckles was not also engraved in French
- The boarding announcements had more detail in English than in the French version
In the case of the boarding announcements, the court was told that the English boarding announcement lasted for 15-seconds, whereas the French version lasted just 5-seconds.
Air Canada argued it had in fact complied with the Official Languages Act and it was all a matter of interpretation. In its defence, the airline said the word ‘EXIT’ was an accepted term in French which derived from Latin and actually appears in French dictionaries.
Meanwhile, the airline claimed the word ‘LIFT’ engraved on seatbelt buckles was a manufacturer decision that Air Canada had no control over.
The court, though, disagreed with Air Canada’s arguments and ruled the airline had, in fact, violated the Thibodeau’s language rights. Stopping short of issuing a mandatory order, the court ordered Air Canada to pay the couple a total of $22,000 in damages. The airline will also be expected to issue a formal apology – on top of a separate apology Air Canada had already made.
The airline is working with the Language Commissioner to replace the controversial signage within the next six months.