Ottawa man will sue again if he's not served in French
An Ottawa man who successfully sued Air Canada for failing to provide service in French says he'll sue again if he runs into the same situation, but he hopes it doesn't come to that.
"My wish is that at some point in the future, very shortly, Air Canada will be able to fully respect the Official Languages Act and I won't have to do this again," Michel Thibodeau said on Thursday.
"I'm not doing this for fun. It's a lot of time: weekends, evenings. I do this on my own. I have no lawyer, no money for a lawyer and nobody wants to go through this. But at some point you have to stand up for your rights or lose them."
Thibodeau and his wife Lynda sued Air Canada after they weren't provided service in French on two trips between Ottawa and the United States in 2009.
According to the Official Languages Act, Air Canada is required by law to communicate and provide services in English and French when there is a significant demand in the minority language.
The couple argued they didn't get served in French when they checked in for their flight, at the boarding gate, or aboard the plane. An announcement about a change to their baggage carrousel was also only made in English.
A federal court judge, Madam Justice Marie-Josee Bedard, ordered Air Canada to pay the couple $12,000 and to issue an apology.
Although the Thibodeaus asked for $500,000 in exemplary and punitive damages, the judge rejected that claim, saying Air Canada has tried to comply with its obligations under the Official Languages Act.
The issue lit up English talk radio in Ottawa on Thursday.
"It makes me sick. I'm French and I'm ashamed," one person told CFRA's Lowell Green.
But a constitutional expert says there's a larger issue at hand.
"Canada is an officially bilingual country and Air Canada is bound by the Official Languages Act. If it doesn't respect the Act than of course that will fuel the secessionism movement in Quebec and we don't want that to happen," said Michael Behiels, a constitutional historian.
Above all, Thibodeau says he hopes this doesn't happen again.
"I just hope that with this strong message from the federal court, Air Canada will put whatever's necessary in place so that in the future whatever passenger flies with them, they have service in both official languages," he said.
"If you want to flip that aside, just imagine there was a flight from Toronto to Ottawa and only one flight attendant, and that flight attendant only spoke French on the flight. Anglophones would be pretty ticked off at that and would probably tell Air Canada: 'Look we have a right to be served in the language of our choice.'"
It's the third time Thibodeau has sued Air Canada in the last few years over the lack of service in French.
With a report from CTV Ottawa's Catherine Lathem and files from The Canadian Press