Ottawa

Air Canada ordered to pay French-speaking couple $21K over language violations

The Federal Court has ordered Air Canada to pay $21,000 to an Ottawa couple for repeated violations of their French-language rights, including seatbelts on which the instruction to "lift" the buckle was marked only in English.

Michel and Lynda Thibodeau filed 22 complaints in 2016

Air Canada has been ordered to pay Lynda and Michel Thibodeau $21,000 and write them letters of apology after they complained about repeated violations of their French-language rights. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The Federal Court has ordered Air Canada to pay $21,000 to an Ottawa couple for repeated violations of their French-language language rights, including seatbelts on which the instruction to "lift" the buckle was marked only in English.

Michel and Lynda Thibodeau filed 22 complaints in 2016 with the commissioner of official languages for alleged offences under the Official Languages Act.

The pair complained that planes' emergency exit door signs were either in English only, or the English words were in larger font than the French ones. They noted seatbelts were engraved with the word "lift" with no French-language equivalent.

They also complained that a French-language boarding announcement made at the airport in Fredericton was not as detailed as the English-language one.

The two say Air Canada systematically violated the linguistic rights of francophones.

Apology ordered

Following the ruling, Michel Thibodeau told CBC News that he and his wife were "very happy" with the outcome.

"The law is very clear that in Canada [for] francophones and anglophones, the language rights are protected by the Charter. And signage must be of equal quality," he said.

"My expectation is that within a couple of months, we will be able to fly on any Air Canada plane, and finally signage will be in both official languages."

The airline argued the Thibodeaus were interpreting the Official Languages Act too strictly, and claimed the law doesn't require it to treat the two languages identically but in a substantially similar way.

On the issue of the seatbelt, it was the manufacturer's decision to mark the word "lift," Air Canada said, noting that a fully bilingual message on how to use a seatbelt is delivered before takeoff.

Federal Court Justice Martine St-Louis disagreed. She ordered the airline to write letters of apology to both complainants and to pay them damages totalling $21,000. 

No plans to stop flying airline

The Thibodeaus have complained about Air Canada's language act violations before.

Their last legal case against the airline went to the Supreme Court of Canada. The two lost, however, after the country's highest court ruled Air Canada didn't have to respect the language laws on international flights.

Despite their multiple legal battles with the airline, Michel Thibodeau said he and his wife have no plans to stop flying Air Canada.

"It's not me that should be changing airlines," he said. "It's [Air Canada] that should be serving francophone customers in the same way that you're serving anglophone customers."

With files from the CBC's Trevor Pritchard

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