Official Languages Commissioner Gives Travel Sector Failing Grade for Bilingual Service

Canada Airport Arrivals

Airlines, airport authorities in major cities, and even the Canadian Border Services Agency are all failing in their duty to provide services to travellers in both English and French, says Canada's official languages commissioner.

In his annual report, released 30MAY, Raymond Theberge says that federal institutions and federally-regulated companies like airlines are not meeting their requirement to provide services particularly to francophones "where demand warrants it."

And he says it's only gotten worse since the pandemic, according to the Globe & Mail.

“After more than two years of the (COVID-19) pandemic, Canadians have finally been able to return to a certain degree of normalcy and resume activities that were put on hold due to pandemic-related health restrictions,” Theberge told reporters 30MAY.

The commissioner's office received nearly 500 complaints between APR, 2022 and MAR, 2023.  Most concerned a lack of bilingual services and staff, but also cited the absence of signage or reservation systems in both French and English.

Air Canada was the subject of the most complaints - 276 out of a total of 495 - which the report noted is a "10-year high."

However, the official languages commissioner noted that the CBSA and major airports also failed to meet the mark, while adding that "airport authorities spoke about their challenges in recruiting bilingual staff."  He pointed out new, automated multi-lingual systems could help address shortfalls in staffing.

Theberge also addressed new legislation that he hopes will bring companies and agencies in line with federal policy.  If passed, Bill C-13 would give the commissioner new powers and allow companies to be fined up to $25,000 per violation.

In the meanwhile, the commissioner has put the government on notice that it must develop and share new guidelines and tools to airport authorities and submit a plan to the commissioner's office detailing how official languages requirements will be met by the travel sector.

On his part, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra acknowledged the need for a "culture change within the travel industry."

“We need to work together at further enhancing the culture, reminding organizations in the transport sector how important it is that they meet those obligations. Canadians expect to be served in the (official) language of their choice and we need to ensure that transport sector meets that obligation,” Alghabra said 30MAY.

Lynn Elmhirst


With a background in broadcast news and travel lifestyles TV production, Lynn is just as comfortable behind or in front of the camera as she is slinging words into compelling stories at her laptop. Having been called a multi-media ‘content charmer’, Lynn’s other claim to fame is the ability to work 24/7, forgoing sleep until the job is done. Documented proof exists in a picture of Lynn at the closing celebrations of an intense week, standing, champagne in hand - sound asleep. That’s our kind of gal.

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