November 30, 2021

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In Quebec, a linguistic storm after the English speech of the CEO of Air Canada

It should be a speech like any other speech given to the Chamber of Commerce of the Metropolitan Montreal. In other circumstances, it would not have been more than one brief subject in the Quebec press. Corn For his first keynote address in QuebecOn November 3, Air Canada CEO Michael Rousseau chose to speak only English at a meeting of most French-speaking businessmen who came to hear him speak.

Worse still, Big Boss, who has lived in Montreal for almost fourteen years, was banned in the face at the end of his speech by journalists asking him questions in French. “Can it be repeated in English?“, He said to them, before justifying – in English – he inferred a language:”I was able to live in Montreal without ever speaking French. This is the credit of the city.

Without forgiving him, his awkward response was bombarded. How could Montreal, the head of a company that is a parent company in Quebec, not know French?

Degraded language and culture

In the turmoil, the Quebec government responded immediately to the CEO’s comments. “I find it insulting», Got angry Prime Minister Fran பிரான்ois Legold. “Air Canada’s Big Boss reveals everything we rejected decades ago: the contempt for our language and our culture at home in Quebec. These words are unworthy of the functions he occupies, Said Simon Jolin-Barrett, Quebec’s Minister of Justice On Twitter. When Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the situation, the controversy flew to the top of the federal state.Unacceptable.

Like all federal public companies, Air Canada is subject to certain bilingual obligations. When a state-owned company was created, it was privatized in 1988, but was subject to it Official Languages ​​Act (LLO) This ensures equality between public services, especially English and French.

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This is a violation of the spirit of the law, Analyst François Larocque, Professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa, Head of Research on the French-Speaking World, Linguistic Rights and Issues. Air Canada is a bilingual organization in its service to the public, which must present a bilingual face. It is important to set an example, it should come from above.

To date, more than 2,000 complaints have been filed with the Office of the Commissioner for Official Languages ​​for Canada, which is responsible for enforcing the OLA and thereby ensuring English and French equality in the country. An image provided to us directly by the Press Service of this Authority. While the acceptance of all of these complaints has not yet been explored, this post explains how the CEO of Air Canada established a rapport with French-speaking Canadians.

“Speak white”

This was a step back for them, Historian and writer Martin Pocket sighed Languages ​​and Politics in Canada and Quebec: A Historical Collection (Released in 2010 by Editions to Bory). The CEO, who has lived in Montreal for fourteen years, is told that their language is not important because they do not need to speak French in Quebec.

The incident actually pushed French speakers into a distant period when their language would be suppressed under the weight of English. From XIXe With the advent of the century and an English-speaking bourgeoisie, French was considered the language spoken at the bottom of the social ladder, and useless for social development. “This superiority of English-speaking Canadians was expressed through expression at the time “Speak white”, The historian adds. This was common in Montreal until the 1970s. “Speak white When we asked for service in French at department stores in Quebec. Listen: Here we speak English.

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“Today, there are laws and official discourses in favor of bilingualism, but in reality it is only on one front.”

Martin Pocket, historian

From Peaceful revolution Has been there. Launched in 1960, it corresponds to the period of the Great Uprising for Quebec. In line with the struggles for African-American civil rights in the United States, but in line with the uprisings in France and Europe, the Cubans have called for the reaffirmation of their Francophone identity and the redefining of inter-provincial relations. And the Central Government ..

It makes continuous language laws for both the province of Quebec and the federal state. In 1969, Canada officially became a bilingual state, with the enactment of the Official Languages ​​Act, which made English and French the two official languages ​​of the country. In Quebec, in 1977, The Charter of French law Imposes French as the only official language of the province.

In 2021, the security of the French language is as weak as ever. “Of course, today there are laws and official discourses in favor of bilingualism, but in reality it is only on one front, in which Air Canada is a prime example because it is subject to law but does not respect its obligations., Comments Martin Pâquet.

As a fundamental trend, the fall of Francophony in Quebec and especially in Montreal is worrying. According to a recent study Statistics were carried out by Canada at the request of the office Quebecois de la Lang Franchise, and the share of the home-speaking French-speaking population of Quebec may drop from 82% in 2011 to 75% in 2036. In a similar study, We can read that 49% of phonographs in Quebec speak English in their workplace, which is an even more important event in Montreal.

Towards the modernization of the law

Controversy over Air Canada’s tabled bill eagerly awaited by French – speaking Canadians Having been buried by the federal elections and the early call for the dissolution of parliament, the modernization of the Official Languages ​​Act, which has been in place since 1988, may change things.

Official Languages ​​Minister Janet Pettitbass Taylor Undertook to present this new text In the first 100 days of the new Trudeau government in parliament. “If accepted as such, bilingualism could be imposed not only on Supreme Court judges, but also on all private businesses in Quebec and in areas with high bronchophone concentrations, such as eastern Ontario and New Brunswick., Profile of Law Professor Franசois LaRoche.

The Official Languages ​​Commissioner may be given more power, with the possibility of issuing higher binding orders or even financial penalties against erring companies. For its part, it is drafting a bill to re-establish the French position in the province of Quebec.

Meanwhile, the CEO of Air Canada has apologized and announced that he has started taking serious French lessons. Its progress will no doubt be closely monitored by the Francophone community.