Sacre Bleu! French Language Hardliners Win £8,000 Payout

  • French language hardliners win £8,000 payout after Air Canada staff speak to them in English
  • Couple claim airline ‘didn’t respect their right to be served in their mother tongue’
  • Payout fuels language debate in bilingual Canada

Michel and Lynda Thibodeau sued Air Canada for not respecting their right to be served in their mother tongue during a flight from the country’s capital Ottawa.

Despite speaking fluent English, Mr Thibodeau complained that he was not greeted in French when the pair checked in for their flight or at the airport’s boarding gate. He also branded the airline’s employees ‘malicious, oppressive and reprehensible’ for not answering his questions in French.

The pair also complained that when they ordered a 7Up drink on the plane, the English-speaking air hostess brought them a Sprite instead.

Mr Thibodeau had sued Air Canada for £350,000 for breach of the Official Languages Act, under which Air Canada must communicate and provide services in English and French. But a Canadian federal court ordered the airline to pay the couple £7,850 in damages and apologise.

The ruling has reignited debate over Canada’s linguistic divide. The country is officially bilingual but arguments are often stirred by nationalists in French-speaking Quebec.

Mr Thibodeau said after the ruling last week: ‘This was a violation of my linguistic rights, and at some point you have to stand up for your rights or lose them.’ He also filed a similar language complaint against Ottawa’s bus company in 2002 after a driver greeted him with ‘hello’ instead of ‘bonjour’.

Canadian constitional expert Michael Behiels said: ‘Canada is an officially bilingual country and Air Canada is bound by the Official Languages Act. ‘If it doesn’t respect the Act, then that will aggravate the separatists in Quebec and we don’t want that to happen.’

An Air Canada spokesman said the firm is studying the ruling.

Taken from the Daily Mail: 19.07.11