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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Democracy works: government begins to claw back bilingual requirements

Remember back in July when I wrote about Michel Thibodeau, the angry French crusader who sued the federal government for $525,000 because he couldn't order a 7-Up in French?  Here's the article to remind you.

Thibodeau outrageously won that case (although he and his wife only won $5,376) because Air Canada is legally bound to the Official Languages Act, even though it's a private corporation.  Why?  Because when Air Canada was privatized in 1988 they foolishly bound themselves to the OLA under section 10 of the Air Canada Public Participation Act (ACPPA).

Given this, my article published in July called for the removal of s. 10 from the ACPPA, because

What business does government have dictating in which language(s) a company operates? In a country as diverse as Canada, where 21 languages are recognized and almost two million people speak “other” languages, it makes no sense to be able to dictate in which language a company can operate. English should be a given considering it is the predominant language spoken across Canada and increasingly in the world. But if a company wants to do business in Cantonese, Ukrainian, or Cree, let them. Perhaps Mr. Thibodeau can attempt to find a French-only airline as he so desperately desires, but he might be waiting a while.
 I even took my outrage to several federal ministers, including Prime Minister Harper, James Moore, Minister of Heritage and Official Languages, Denis Lebel, Minister of Infrastructure, Transport, and Communities and Minister of the Economic Development Agency for the Regions of Quebec, and Jim Flaherty, Minister of Finance.  I received acknowledgement letters from their offices, but nothing further.

And it turns out democracy works.

I noticed today that Bill C-17: An Act to Amend the Air Canada Public Participation Act was introduced and given its first reading by Minister Lebel on October 17, 2011.  Obviously amused, I read on.

Bill C-17 is a government bill, so it probably can and will become law.  Among the other sections, C-17 moves to amend the ACPPA by excepting s. 10 from the OLA if the air carrier provides its services through a different entity (for example, Air Canada Jazz).

So it's a start.  Although I'll never know at what stage this bill was before my letter was received, or if my letter even had any effect at all, C-17 is a semi-win for Canadians.  It does not repeal s. 10, so it still binds Air Canada - a private company - to the OLA.  Even if they're flying to places like Georgia (like Thibodeau was), where less than one half of one percent of the population speaks French.  But the fact that the government is recognizing that Air Canada should be exempt from the OLA in some circumstances is a start.

I still encourage you to write your Member of Parliament, as well as Minister Lebel to encourage them to make additional changes to the ACPPA.  Repeal S. 10!