$1,500 payout over drinking fountains with English-language buttons
The Senate building's drinking fountains had metal buttons embossed with the English word "PUSH."
The Federal Court has ordered the Senate to pay a Montreal-area man $1,500 in compensation after he complained that his language rights were violated by the drinking fountains with English-language push-button labels he encountered on Parliament Hill.
In a judgment delivered Thursday, Federal Court Justice Luc Martineau ruled the Senate of Canada failed to meet its obligations under the Official Languages Act because its drinking fountains had metal buttons embossed with the English word “PUSH.”
Some of the fountains in the Parliament Hill building also included the equivalent word in Braille, but none of them had the French word “POUSSEZ.”
On Sept. 26, 2016, Michel Thibodeau filed a complaint against the Senate after working in different buildings on Parliament Hill as a public servant from 1997.
Thibodeau said he felt “like a second-class citizen compared to Anglophones, who had signage in the language of choice” when he passed the unilingual drinking fountains in the hallways of the East Block.
In response to the complaint, signs with the text “To activate the water fountain, please push the button” and “Pour activer la fontaine d’eau veuillez appuyer sur le bouton” were installed above the drinking fountains in East Block.
Richard Denis, the acting clerk of the Senate, also sent Thibodeau a letter thanking him for bringing the situation to their attention and expressing his “sincere regret.”
Despite these steps, Martineau judged that the signage above the fountains did not fulfill the Senate’s obligations under the languages act because there was not “substantive equality” between the two languages.
The judge agreed with Thibodeau’s position that he would have “no legal reason to complain if a bilingual self-adhesive label with the words “PUSH” and “POUSSEZ” was placed on the button of each unilingual fountain or if the English word “PUSH” was covered up with a thick enough self-adhesive label.”
Martineau said English was still “predominant” because the fountains still had the buttons embossed with the word “PUSH” on them and no French equivalent.
As a result, Thibodeau was awarded $1,500 in damages and his $700 court costs were covered.
Because the Parliamentary buildings are currently undergoing restorations, Martineau expressed hope that his judgment will encourage planners to replace the unilingual drinking fountains with bilingual ones.
It’s not the first time the Federal Court has ruled in Thibodeau’s favour.
In August, Michel Thibodeau and Lynda Thibodeau were awarded $21,000 for having their language rights violated by Air Canada because their planes’ emergency exit door signs were in English only or the English font was larger than the French font. They also complained the seatbelts were engraved with the word “lift” only.
In 2016, the Thibodeaus filed 22 complaints for offences under the Official Languages Act.
With files from The Canadian Press