Ottawa: OC rider wants drivers to be bilingual

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Tue Jan 29 14:51:35 UTC 2008

OC rider wants drivers to be bilingual


Michel Thibodeau has filed a complaint with the city accusing OC
Transpo drivers of interacting with passengers in English only. (Tony
Caldwell, Sun Media)

An Ottawa man who successfully sued Air Canada for not serving him in
French has turned his sights to OC Transpo. Michel Thibodeau filed a
complaint against the city last November accusing it of not providing
sufficient bilingual services on its buses. Thibodeau told the Sun the
city has failed to satisfy his rights as a francophone because bus
drivers are not calling out bus stops in both official languages.  He
said based on the city's own official bilingualism bylaw and policy he
deserves the same rights, status and privileges as an anglophone.


"When I take the bus I can't get the same service in French," he said.
"When bus drivers speak to passengers it's never in French."
Thibodeau doesn't want drivers to lose their jobs because they don't
speak French, but all new hires should be bilingual and those who
don't currently speak French should take language training. Because
the complaint is currently under investigation, city clerk Pierre Page
couldn't comment extensively on the issue, but said the city takes all
language complaints seriously. Page said he's not sure if the city
will require all bus drivers to be bilingual once it completes a
department-wide review of its official bilingual designation policy.
He did say several bus drivers are already bilingual.

The report is expected to reach city council later this year. "OC
Transpo is one we are still working on," said Page. "It's in the hands
of our legal department." A recent court challenge ended in favour of
the city's current bilingualism position after the group Canadians For
Language Fairness challenged Ottawa's bilingual policy. The judge's
decision found that the city's bilingual bylaw and policy are
constitutional. Thibodeau successfully sued Air Canada after he
couldn't order a soft drink in French during an August 2000 flight
from Ottawa to Montreal.

The judge that presided over the case concluded the airline failed to
comply with the applicant's language rights under the Official
Languages Act and forced Air Canada to make the necessary arrangements
with its unions to ensure compliance with the Act. Air Canada sent
Thibodeau a letter of apology and reimbursed him $6,000 for
out-of-pocket expenses. Thibodeau is a frequent bus rider and has
experienced bus drivers only greeting passengers with "good morning"
not "bonjour" and that general verbal interaction with passengers is
only in English.

He is also not happy with the unilingual destination signage on the
front of buses and wants them to include the appropriate French
language accents. "This is my city and my country and two peoples
founded this country -- the English and the French -- and we have
decided to live with each other," said Thibodeau. The city's transit
committee chairman Bay Coun. Alex Cullen said the issue could open a
bilingual "can of worms." Cullen hopes once the city installs a system
that automatically calls out stops in both official languages it will
resolve that issue.
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