May 20, 2022

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Linguistic storm in Quebec after English speech by Air Canada CEO

It should be a speech similar to the other performed before the Board of Trade of the Metropolitan Montreal. In other circumstances, he would not have been subject to more than one briefing 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.

Even worse, Big Boss, who has lived in Montreal for almost fourteen years, was shocked by the questions journalists asked him in French after his speech. “Can it be repeated in English?“, Before he could justify them – in English – he adopted a monologue:”I was able to live in Montreal without ever speaking French. This is a credit to the city.

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

Degraded language and culture

In the turmoil, the Quebec government responded immediately to the CEO’s comments. “I find it insulting», Was angry Prime Minister Franாங்கois Legalt. “Air Canada’s Big Boss reveals everything we rejected decades ago: the contempt for our language and our culture at home in Quebec. These comments are inappropriate for the activities he performs.Quebec Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette said On Twitter. As Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau describes the situation, the controversy has escalated to the heights of the federal state.Unacceptable“.

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

This is a violation of the spirit of the lawProfessor Franோois LaRoche, head of research on the world, rights and linguistic issues of the Francophone world at the Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa, analyzes. Air Canada is a company that legally requires bilingual proficiency in serving the public. The prototype is important, it has to come from above.

To date, more than 2,000 complaints have been filed with the Office of the Commissioner for Official Languages ​​of Canada, which is responsible for enforcing the OLA and ensuring equality of French and English in the country. A number given directly to us by the press service of this authority. This post explains how the CEO of Air Canada established a rapport with French-speaking Canadians if the acceptability of all of these complaints had not yet been examined.

“Speak white”

This was a step back for themHistorian 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.

This incident really pushes French speakers back to the period when their language was oppressed under the weight of English. From the 19thAnd 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 asked for service in French at department stores in Quebec City. 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 a home.”


Martin Pocket, historian

First Peaceful revolution Went 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 parallel with the uprisings in France and Europe, the Cubans are being asked to reaffirm their bronchophone identity and redefine relations between the provinces. Central government..

This resulted in a series of language laws at the provincial and federal levels of Quebec. 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 rhetoric 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 the law but does not respect its obligations.Martin Pâquet commented.

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 Long Franchise, the share of the French-speaking population in Quebec at home is likely to increase from 82% in 2011 to 75% in 2036. In a similar studyWe can read that 49% of French speakers in Quebec speak English in their workplace, which is even more important in Montreal.

Towards the modernization of the law

Air Canada has put back on the table the bill that French-speaking Canadians have been eagerly awaiting. The modernization of the Official Languages ​​Act, which has remained unchanged since 1988, may have changed the course of the election, which has been buried by calling early federal elections and dissolving parliament.

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, it could impose bilingual capabilities on Supreme Court justices, all private companies in Quebec, and areas with a high number of phonographs, such as eastern Ontario and New Brunswick.Law professor Franசois Larog explains.

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 French place in the province of Quebec.

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Meanwhile, the CEO of Air Canada apologized and announced that he had begun to take serious French lessons. Its progress will no doubt be closely followed by the Francophone community.