[lg policy] Canada: A $12,000 7Up? Mon dieu!

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sat Jul 16 14:14:00 UTC 2011

A $12,000 7Up? Mon dieu! 110

By Peter Worthington ,QMI Agency

First posted: Friday, July 15, 2011 2:00:05 EDT AM

 If you want to know what's wrong with Canada's official language
policy, look no further than Michel Thibodeau.
He's the fluently bilingual federal government employee who sued Air
Canada because he and his wife were denied service in French -- the
trigger being his failure to get a 7Up when requesting it in French on
an AC flight in 2009.

He and his wife sued for $25,000 each -- plus $500,000 in punitive
damages. But the court awarded them "only" $12,000. Thibodeau is
quoted as saying he was not asking for anything he wasn't entitled to:
"I have a right to be served in French." Yes, he does have that
"right" in a country that is officially bilingual -- but in reality is
not as bilingual as most would like it to be.

In fact, Canada will never be fully bilingual in the lifetime of most
of us. Linguistic zealots like Thibodeau do not help unify the
cultural divide, but instead exacerbate the chasm. Even asking for
$500,000 in punitive damages because an Air Canada flight attendant
didn't understand their request in French for a 7Up smacks of greed
and nastiness.

Had the pair been insulted or demeaned for speaking French, or not
knowing English, it would have been different. Canadians do not revile
those who speak other languages or in accents. How could we, with so
many living here who came from other countries and cultures? I doubt
there are many Canadians who wouldn't relish speaking and
understanding other languages.

In this, most Quebecois are lucky. Personally, instead of forcing
bilingualism on federal employees, I'd argue paying a premium in
salaries would be incentive to become bilingual. Profit is a great
motivator, and more effective than bullying. Air Canada, more than
most, is sensitive to our official language policy.

In a country where 80% of the population's main language is English,
some 50% of AC's flight attendants speak French. How Thibodeau or
anyone can say his rights were "violated" when he wasn't served in
French by someone who doesn't know French is puzzling if not
preposterous. The federal government has diligently encouraged
employees to become bilingual. The problem has been these programs
have been more effective at creating English speakers among the
Quebecois, than French speakers among the Anglophones.

In most of Canada, daily language tends to be English. That's unlikely
to change until French is taught in public schools from kindergarten
up. Language is one area where Europeans have an edge on most North
Americans, and that's unlikely to change.

Belgium has two official languages -- French and Flemish -- yet
there's a cultural divide. Switzerland has four languages -- French,
German, Italian and Romansh, with English the language of air
controllers. Yet Switzerland is not a good example of blended unity.
Canada is unique in melding many cultures and languages, but incidents
like Thibodeau's alleged violation of his right to be served in French
serves no one -- but it's got him $12,000.

It may make him the most resented man in Canada at the moment by those
who want harmony in the country.


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