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Air Canada fined for failing to speak French to passenger

Air Canada fined for failing to speak French to passenger

With the price of aviation fuel skyrocketing, intrusive security checks angering passengers and terrorism a constant threat, airlines could be forgiven for thinking things could not get much worse at present.

But enter the Canadian judiciary, which has just hit Air Canada with a $12,000 fine for failing to serve a passenger in French.

The Federal Court in Ottawa ruled Air Canada failed to respect its linguistic obligations under the Official Languages Act.

As a result, the airline was ordered to pay Michel Thibodeau $12,000 and also cover his $6,982 court costs. It is the second time Thibodeau has won such a case against the airline.

However, Judge Marie-Josee Bedard did offer some lenience, stopping short of demanding the airline pay punitive and exemplary damages.

“The applicants’ language rights are clearly very important to them [Thibodeau and his wife] and the violation of their rights caused them a moral prejudice, pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of their vacation,” Justice Marie-Josée Bédard wrote in her judgment.

“It is also my opinion that awarding damages in this case will serve the purpose of emphasizing the importance of the rights at issue and will have a deterrent effect.”

The Official Languages Act requires Air Canada to communicate and provide services in both official languages in the National Capital Region and elsewhere in Canada “where there is significant demand for those services in the minority language and where it is warranted by the nature of the office or facility”.

The incident occurred in May 2009.