Official languages commissioner will be able to ‘impose orders’ on Air Canada, minister says

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The Canadian Press Staff • March 23, 2022

The Commissioner of Official Languages will be able to “impose orders” on Air Canada, Official Languages Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor said Wednesday.

The minister was appearing before a parliamentary committee following the tabling, earlier this month, of her proposal to modernize the Official Languages Act.

Several Conservative MPs took turns pointing out that this new version of the law does not have enough teeth, citing the “administrative monetary penalties” of up to $25,000 that could be imposed on offenders.

“Air Canada did $8 billion in sales in 2019, before the pandemic … $25,000 for a fine! Do you think we will shake the columns of the temple of Air Canada with that?” asked the MP Bernard Généreux.

Taylor replied that while the sanctions and fines are “tangible,” the other powers will be much more effective.

“The order-making power is really what’s going to have more teeth for companies like Air Canada,” she said in another exchange.

Taylor insisted that the official languages commissioner will be able to “impose orders” where currently he can only “investigate and report.”

“He wanted more tools, that’s exactly what we delivered,” she said.

After the committee meeting, Genéreux said he will work to clarify the meaning and scope of the order-making power.

“This is really fundamental,” he said. “If the Commissioner of Official Languages has the power to issue an order to any company in the transportation sector in Canada that is subject to the Act, it can go very far.”

Many MPs were surprised to learn from the minister that Air Canada will no longer be the only airline subject to the Official Languages Act.

During the introduction of the bill, Taylor had indicated that only four passenger transportation companies were affected: Air Canada, Via Rail, the airport authorities and Marine Atlantic.

Asked to clarify her comments on Wednesday, she told The Canadian Press that in Quebec “all private companies under federal jurisdiction will be subject to the law” and that “outside Quebec, it will only be in regions with a strong francophone presence.”

In other words, an airline such as Westjet, for example, would be subject to the act only in the “regions with a strong francophone presence” where it operates, she said.

The regions in question will be specified in a regulation to be drafted only after the law has received Royal Assent, a situation that “worries” Généreux. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on March 23, 2022.