At first glance, it is to laugh. The Supreme Court of Canada, CP reports, has agreed to hear the appeal of a couple who sued Air Canada when they weren't able to order a 7up soda in French.
It's a sad joke, you think to yourself. I mean, really? A 7up? They couldn't say 7up in English or point to a can or say "Sprite" or something?
We all know English speakers can run afoul of absurd language rules in Quebec. And we'll hear a lot about that as this case gets to the court, I'm sure.
But that's missing the point. Air Canada is mandated to serve people in both of our official languages. It's a legal requirement.
The 7up thing is silly on its own. Stupid, even. But if you read the fuller story you'll find that Michel and Lynda Thibodeau filed eight complaints with the official languages commissioner over what they say was English-only service they got on Air Canada flights between January and May, 2009.
You'll also find that Air Canada admitted fault. Here's the Canadian Press story on the Federal Court ruling from July, 2011, the ruling that's being appealled to the Supreme Court.Air Canada must pay $12,000 and apologize to an Ottawa couple after admitting it failed to provide them with services in French, a Federal Court judge ruled Wednesday.
However, the judge decided against imposing punitive damages, saying the carrier has tried to comply with its obligations under the Official Languages Act.
The case arose out of two trips Michel and Lynda Thibodeau made in the first half of 2009 between Ottawa and the United States.
They argued they couldn't get service in French when they checked in, at the boarding gate and aboard the flight, and that an announcement about a change of baggage carousel was made only in English.
The Ottawa couple each sought $25,000 in compensation.
"The applicants' language rights are clearly very important to them, " Madam Justice Marie-Josée Bédard said in her ruling."The violation of their rights caused them a moral prejudice, pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of their vacation."
Air Canada conceded the Thibodeau's had four legitimate
complaints, but argued they didn't suffer damages that should be
compensated. The judge disagreed.
Under the Official Languages Act, Air Canada s required to communicate and provide services in both official languages where there is significant demand in the minority language.
"Awarding damages in this case will serve the purpose of emphasizing the importance of the rights at issue, and will have a deterrent effect, " Bédard wrote.
After considering the various factors at play, Bédard set the amount at $6,000 each - $1,500 for each of the four admitted breaches. But she rejected the Thibodeau's request to award $500,000 in exemplary and punitive damages, which they based on what they described as arrogance from Air Canada's side.
Call me soft, but I think if Air Canada admits fault it should be required to pay something. The ruling by Bedard sounds quite reasonable to me, however.
It's difficult for Air Canada in the sense that other Canadian carriers aren't bound by the same rules. But AC gets plenty of help from the government (like in the recent pension decision). So I don't feel particularly sorry for them. These were flights from Ottawa, folks. Surely they'd have someone at the airport and on board to speak French.
Given the decision, I can't quite see why the Supreme Court is taking up the issue. Surely it's not the sort of publicity Air Canada wants. Nor the Prime Minister, I suspect.
ONTARIO GOVERNMENT APPLAUDED BY TOURISM FOLKS
The Tourism Industry Association of Ontario today sent out a release applauding Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne's new provincial budget.
"Yesterday’s budget showed us that the Ontario government is listening and supports the tourism industry in Ontario by maintaining their current level of investment in tourism, by increasing investment attraction activities, and by increasing the commitment and programing for job creation."
The Association said it had laid out three priority areas for the Province to consider in the 2013 budget:
- Maintain the current level of investment in tourism;
- Encourage the attraction of new investors to the tourism industry to build new product; and
- Maintain support of workforce development and skills training in tourism.
Tourism is a $23.6 billion a year industry in Ontario, the association said, noting opportunities for growth in places like China, India and Brazil.
"By working with partners across the country, Ontario can leverage its marketing dollars to draw new visitors and increase visitor spending. Attracting increased foreign and domestic tourism investment to Ontario benefits everyone: tourism operators, municipalities, residents and visitors alike. Investment in new and existing tourism experiences will attract more new visitors and encourage repeat visitors, enhancing Ontario’s reputation and strengthens the provincial economy."
It's interesting to see the note about China. I've said it before, but it seems everyone and his brother (and cousin) is madly chasing Chinese tourism dollars.
A story I saw Thursday from Xinhua, the Chinese news agency, noted that Australia is trying to become "China Ready" as China is its fasted growing "and most cherished" market.
I've noted previously how hotels in Canada and the U.S. are adding more Mandarin speakers, plus adding Mandarin TV stations and other amenities. You'll find the same thing in top high-end shops on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, I'm told. Now, in Sydney, folks who want to climb the famous Harbour Bridge will find Mandarin guides awaiting them.
If I was a kid today, I'd be trying to learn Mandarin...
CALGARY AIRPORT GROWING
Here's an item that'll make Montrealers gasp. It seems Calgary's airport is poised to become Canada's third biggest by the end of the year, surpassing Montreal Trudeau International.
Calgary is behind right now and in fourth spot, but with a faster growth rate than Montreal it's expected to go past the 14 million mark by the end of the year and surge past Montreal.
NEW TRANSFORMERS THEME PARK
Universal Orlando says it's new, 3-D theme park ride, based on the Transformers toy brand, will open June 20 in Florida.
Officials describe the ride as an interactive, "larger than life battle" between the Autobots and the Decepticons. It uses flight simular technology, along with wind, heat and smoke to make the riders feel immersed in the experience, according to Associate Press.
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