Air Canada slammed for not speaking French
graham fraser, canada languages watchdog, air canada, air canada languages
Published Monday, September 19, 2011 4:58PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 6:01AM EDT
Air Canada has repeatedly failed to live up to its legal obligation to serve francophone customers in French, an audit by the languages watchdog reveals.
Released Monday by the office of Official Languages Commissioner Graham Fraser, the audit says "the active offer of bilingual services is non-existent in the vast majority of airports," except at Montreal's Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport.
But even at Trudeau airport, front-line employees made that offer to arriving travellers less than half of the time. At check-in counters, some agents made no offer to find a French-speaking colleague, simply saying, "Sorry, I don't speak French," even though there was a bilingual agent at another counter.
The 10-month audit began in April of last year and found that in almost every case it was service in French that wasn't properly provided.
"Canadians expect Air Canada to consider our two official languages as a valued asset as well as a business opportunity and an obligation. The results of the audit reveal that a wind of change is required for this to happen," the audit report says.
Release of the report comes two months after Air Canada was ordered by the Federal Court to apologize and pay $12,000 to Michel and Lynda Thibodeau for failing to provide services in French during two trips the Ottawa couple took in 2009.
As a former Crown corporation, Air Canada retained its bilingual obligations when it was privatized in 1988. The carrier has to offer services in both French and English at major airports and on designated routes in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick.
"This audit highlights some positive observations and reveals some situations that require improvement to ensure that Air Canada complies fully with the Official Languages Act," Fraser said. "The corrective measures we propose can be applied fairly easily – in fact, Air Canada has integrated most of them into its new action plan and is committed to implementing them."
The language problem at Air Canada stemmed from employees not being aware of the carrier's legal obligations but also from a "negative attitude" by some agents, the auditors found.
They also reported that, at boarding and arrival gates, unscripted announcements were often not bilingual so that francophone passengers could miss their flights or miss out on an offer of compensation for an overbooked flight.
The company has "recurring official languages problems" because no one is held responsible for meeting official languages objectives, the audit says.
The vast majority of employees interviewed did not know that the carrier has a policy where they should tell customers to wait while they seek a bilingual co-worker, rather than push the customer to switch language. Language training courses weren't promoted and access to them was hard and limited.
"From the outset, it was clear that there are problems with French-language services (outside of Quebec), both in the air and on the ground," the audit says.
Air Canada has agreed with all but one of the 12 recommendations but disagreed with a recommendation that it regularly consult with francophone communities when making decisions affecting routes and services.