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Air Canada does not provide service in both official languages

OTTAWA –

Whether traveling by plane, train or car, French-speaking travelers are finding it difficult to access services in their language, Canada’s official language commissioner said Tuesday.

Raymond Theberge said this is an ongoing struggle and has gotten worse over the past decade, especially as people start to travel again.

“After more than two years of the pandemic (COVID-19), Canadians are finally able to return to a certain degree of normalcy and resume activities that have been stalled due to health restrictions related to COVID-19.” pandemic,” Theberge told reporters Tuesday after presenting his annual report.

“This normalcy, however, has highlighted formal language problems that I have raised many times in the past, but which still very much exist.”

His 2022-23 report shows Air Canada receiving the most complaints. But airport authorities in major cities and Canada Border Services are also at fault for violating the Official Languages ​​Act by not providing adequate services in the official language of people’s choice, Theberge said. speak.

Complaints often revolve around a lack of staff and bilingual service, but his report also highlights the lack of signage in English and French, as well as the absence of a multilingual reservation system.

Theberge said about 495 complaints were filed with federally regulated travel organizations between April 2022 and the end of March, with 276 of them directed at Air Canada.

The report says claims against Air Canada are at a 10-year high, even if you exclude the significant number of claims the company received in 2021-22 after its CEO gave speech in English only in Quebec, the report said.

An Air Canada spokesperson said the company is reviewing the findings and will take advantage of any opportunity to improve, because any complaints made are taken seriously.

“We are one of the few Canadian companies and the only airline that follows the Official Languages ​​Act. We have maintained our commitment to the act for the past 50 years, in an industry governed by complex rules, while serving our customers in more than 20 languages ​​in 51 countries outside of Canada,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

The commissioner said he hoped that the law modernizing the official language law would make companies more compliant.

Measure C-13, being studied in the Senate, would give the commissioner new powers and allow companies to be fined up to $25,000 for each violation of the act — but Theberge says he disagrees. necessarily believe it will make companies like Air Canada shake in their boots.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra acknowledged the need for an overall cultural change in the tourism industry.

“We need to work together to further enhance the culture, reminding organizations in the transportation sector how important it is for them to meet those obligations. Canadians want to be served. in the (official) language of their choice and we need to make sure that the transportation sector meets that obligation,” Alghabra said Tuesday.

The commissioner’s report noted that airport authorities spoke of their challenges in recruiting bilingual staff, while some looked to automated multilingual systems to address those challenges. shortcoming.

The Commissioner has tasked the government with developing tools and guidelines that can be shared with airport authorities. He is also asking federal officials to submit a plan on how to meet official language obligations.

“We will continue to do everything we can to ensure that those (language) rights are protected,” Alghabra said.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 30, 2023.



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