Air Canada chief executive Michael Rousseau now faces an official government probe over his inability to speak French after Canada’s Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages received more than 1,000 complaints about Rousseau’s failure to address Francophones in their language of choice.
Rousseau issued a public apology on Thursday and promised to take time out of his busy schedule to learn French but his atonement has done little to quell the public or political anger over the issue.
The furore erupted after Rousseau chose to address an audience of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal on Wednesday in English rather than the official French language of Quebec.
At the end of his speech, a journalist asked Rousseau how he had managed to live in Montreal without speaking French, although the now embattled CEO didn’t understand the question because it was asked in French.
While Rousseau says he would love to speak French, he justified his lack of multi-lingual skills on the fact that he was far too busy guiding Air Canada through the pandemic to learn a second language.
Air Canada is subject to Canada’s Official Languages Act which means the carrier must serve customers in both English and French. All public announcements must also be made in both English and French.
As Air Canada’s chief executive, Rousseau isn’t required to speak French but the question at stake is whether his speech to the chamber of commerce was a public announcement that should have been made in both English and French.
Air Canada told delegates before the speech that it would be made only in English – a decision that drew a rebuke from Commissioner of Official Languages, Raymond Théberge who warned Air Canada that the speech should be made in both English and French.
The airline rejected the warning on the basis that the speech was being made at a private event and therefore didn’t constitute an ‘official communication’ that necessitated it being made in both English and French.
The Commissioners office is now considering opening an official investigation to determine whether Air Canada broke to Official Language Act.
Along with public anger, even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has taken a swing at the Air Canada boss over the issue. Rousseau said on Thursday that he was committed to learning French.
“The fact that this iconic company is headquartered in Montreal is a source of pride for me and our entire executive team. I reiterate Air Canada’s commitment to show respect for French and, as a leader, I will set the tone,” the apology continued.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.