Air Canada to pay $12K for French service lapse
Couple were denied service in French as required under Official Languages Act
A Federal Court has ordered Air Canada to pay $12,000 and formally apologize to an Ottawa couple who sued the carrier for failing to provide service in French during flights two years ago.
Michel and Lynda Thibodeau claimed that Air Canada did not fulfil its duties under the Official Languages Act by ensuring them service in French at critical points during two trips made between January and May 2009.
On various occasions, they said, service in French was lacking at airports in Atlanta, Toronto and Ottawa — during check-ins, while boarding and then during flights. One announcement about a change in baggage carousels was only made in English, they said.
The husband and wife had each sought $25,000 in compensation.
In her decision on Wednesday, Justice Marie-Joseé Bédard agreed that Air Canada had not met its obligations to offer service in both of Canada's official languages under the act, which requires provision of service in French or English when there is a "significant demand."
Air Canada conceded the Thibodeaus' complaints were legitimate, but the company argued the damages suffered were not so serious they should be compensated.
Bédard disagreed in her ruling and said the breaches pointed toward a systemic problem.
Aside from the $12,000 in damages awarded to the Thibodeaus, they will also be receiving an apology from Air Canada.
The judge decided not to impose $500,000 in punitive and exemplary damages sought against Air Canada, reasoning that the carrier did its best to act in good faith to comply with its linguistic obligations.
"The applicants' language rights are clearly very important to them," Bédard concluded in her ruling. "The violation of their rights caused them a moral prejudice, pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of their vacation."
The court heard that as of March 15, 2010, nearly half (47 per cent) of Air Canada's flight attendants were bilingual, as were about one-quarter of its airport employees in contact with the public. Also, 59 per cent of its call-centre employees were bilingual.
Air Canada has said in a draft apology it is striving to do better in terms of bilingual service.