The story had all the elements necessary to feed the widespread perception that Francophones are unreasonably imposing bilingualism on a reluctant majority.
Reading the many accounts, it's easy to dislike Michel Thibodeau, the chief
He is a serial whiner who has made over 100 language complaints and is about as sympathetic as someone bitching about the free food at a funeral.
There was, to say the least, one helleva a nasty reaction across the country, even by some of Canada's most respected journalists.
The story that is being peddled in the major newspapers revolves around a
As things would have it, Mr. Thibodeau is bilingual and could have easily interacted in English with the unilingual airline employee, thus providing fodder to those who believe that Mr. Thibodeau was just trying to make trouble.
Mr. Thibodeau is a French language crusader who demands service in French where that service is guaranteed by law or regulation. For that, he is being crushed in the anglo media.
Myself, I applaud him for his effort and his guts. It's not everyone and in fact, there are very few of us who are willing to suffer humiliation and anguish in pursuit of a principle. He has been the subject of a nasty smear campaign that has all the earmarks of a lynching.
In one of the very few articles that is somewhat sympathetic to Mr. Thibodeau, he is quoted as saying;
For anglophones in Quebec it's a bit hypocritical to demand our English language rights be protected while scoffing at Mr. Thibodeau.“Air Canada must be able to provide services in both languages,” ...My rights are compromised if it doesn’t, and I have two choices. I can let it be, and my rights become non-existent, or I can do something. I decided to do something.”
How a story about Air Canada being taken to task in court for not doing what they are required to do by regulation, has morphed into a story that focuses on the complainer, is rather perplexing, as if the fine hand of a public relations firm has shifted attention away from the real issue.
The facts that emerge in this case indicate that Air Canada regularly flies airplanes without French language personnel, when regulations provide that they must. Mr. Thibodeau's lawsuit was crucial to bringing this to light.
Now you may believe, as many Canadians do, that forcing the airline to provide bilingual services almost everywhere in Canada is unreasonable (I'd point out that one of the flights that Mr. Thibodeau complained about originated in Montreal, but that is actually beside the point) but it doesn't relieve Air Canada from the responsibility of fulfilling its obligation.
Just because I believe that 30 kilometre speed limits are unreasonable, it doesn't afford me the right to drive 60kph. If I'm caught by police, I certainly can't expect to get out of a traffic ticket because I find the speed limit unfair or inconvenient.
Air Canada has been guilty of flaunting the French language requirement for years and should be held accountable, PERIOD.
Now this story is of particular interest to we anglophones in Quebec, who see what language rights we have, eroding as well.
A very interesting article in the Montreal Gazette "Accessible health care in English is everyone's right," discusses Quebec's anglophones ability to receive English health services. Regulations provide that English health services be provided everywhere in Quebec, much like French language service on Air Canada.
"Anglophones in Quebec are supposed to be able to get medical treatment in English. Twenty-five years ago, the Quebec government amended existing health-and social services legislation, conferring on the anglophone community across the province a qualified right to receive services in English. (The availability of resources had to be taken into account.) ......Hmmm. that last description sounds like an Air Canada employee.....
...But when Stephanie Kwong, a Montreal respiratory therapist who is six months pregnant, asked to be treated at her local community health clinic in English, she found herself being addressed slowly and loudly in French, as if she were "deaf and stupid,"
It seems that despite the requirement to provide English services, many Quebec health institutions are skirting the regulation (just like Air Canada) and as long as nobody complains, they can get away with it. The farther away one travels from Montreal, the more serious the problem. Only 8% of Anglophones visiting community clinics in the Lower North Shore region are treated in English, even though the law requires that the service be provided.
"Unless anglophones insist on their right to English language services, that right will continue to erode. The burden of maintaining this right cannot be placed on anglophones alone, especially elderly, unilingual English-speakers in the regions. If they are shying away from insisting on their rights, it could be because they are made to feel like second-class citizens "
The above quote from the Montreal Gazette sounds eerily familiar to what Mr. Thibodeau is saying.
Now to explain how perspective changes perception, I'm going to paraphrase a paragraph that appears a little higher up this article and just change the optic;
"Now you may believe, as many Quebeckers do, that forcing hospitals to provide bilingual services almost everywhere in Quebec is unreasonable (I'd point out that one of the hospitals where Stephanie Kwong was refused English service was in Montreal, but that is actually beside the point) but it doesn't relieve the hospitals from the responsibility of fulfilling their obligations."Hmmm....
And so, I haven't got much sympathy for Air Canada. Like the Quebec health institutions that deny anglos service in English because it is inconvenient, so too, Air Canada acts in a self-serving manner by systematically denying francophones their right to French service.
The airline broke the regulations to save money and continued to do so because nobody complained. The company's actions were disrespectful and motivated by greed. This is the second time within a month that Air Canada has been called out for dubious business practices. The airline has just been fined $50,000 in the U.S for deceptive advertising. LINK
I'm only sorry that Mr. Thibodeau didn't get the $500,000 he was asking for.
I wonder if Barbara Kay or Peter Worthington would come down as hard on a bilingual anglophone who demanded to be treated in English, in a Saguenay Lac St. Jean hospital, where there are proportionally less Anglos in the community than there are Francophones on most Air Canada flights.
And how would they feel about the Francophone press mercilessly hounding and humiliating a bilingual anglo for having the audacity to sue a hospital for its failure to offer treatment in English, as is his or her right?
Now before you say that receiving medical services in the language of choice is not the same as receiving a Seven-up, it's the same principle. Rights are rights.
If airplane cabin personnel can't serve a soft drink in French, they can't give the safety demonstration in French either. In the case of an emergency, a unilingual Francophone could have his or her safety compromised because of the cabins crew's inability to transmit instructions in French, The same goes for a medical emergency.
To all those professional journalists who mocked and sneered at Mr. Thibodeau atop their high horses, all I can say is SHAME ON YOU!
We English Quebeckers could use a shit-disturbing hero like Michel Thibodeau!