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Charter of the French language | Air Canada and CN slow to comply



Air Canada and Canadian National (CN) have had their ears pulled at least twice because they are slow to comply with the Charter of the French language. The Quebec Office of the French language (OQLF) was even forced to serve them a warning, last fall, to get things moving.

In the months preceding this warning, the two latecomers seem to have ignored the invitations of the Quebec institution, indicate documents obtained by The Press under the Act respecting access to documents held by public bodies and the protection of personal information. While the country’s largest railroad suggests it may “soon” comply, Canada’s major air carrier is less specific.

The two companies – which have found themselves at the heart of linguistic storms – are part of the small minority of companies under federal jurisdiction that are still not registered with the OQLF. The deadline was set for 1er last December.

“You only have a few days left to do it,” warns the Agency in two letters sent to Air Canada and CN dated November 25. “The Office could […] make an order for your company to comply with the provisions of the Charter or cease to contravene them. »


OQLF offices in Montreal

In force since 1er June, the An Act respecting the official and common language of Quebec, French – often referred to as “Law 96” – has led to significant changes in the business world. It requires federally chartered businesses with more than 50 people to register with the OQLF. We must therefore generalize the use of French at all levels of the company, under penalty of sanctions. Articles of Law 96 are being challenged in court.

There are “more than 95%” of the companies concerned which are registered, affirms the Office. Companies in the telecommunications sectors such as Rogers Communications and Telus are on the NEB’s list of certified companies, alongside others such as the Bank of Montreal and divisions of other major Canadian banks.

A particularity

The cases of Air Canada and CN – whose head offices are in Montreal – have a special feature: they are companies under federal jurisdiction that are also subject to the Official Languages ​​Act – which is accompanied by obligations concerning the use of French and English.

A first reminder was sent by the Agency to Air Canada CEO Amos Kazzaz and CN President and CEO Tracy Robinson on August 17. Both companies were reminded of their radio silence following the sending of the application for registration.

“We note that you have not followed up on this request, it is said to Mr. Kazzaz and Robinson. Again, please provide this information. »

It was not possible to obtain all the exchanges between the OQLF, Air Canada and CN. The Quebec institution says it did not obtain their “consent” to disclose the communications from each of the companies.

Obviously, we are looking for flexibility on the side of the two companies. At the start of the year, they each improved their registration in the Registry of Lobbyists to “explain” their “specific legal context”.

The French language watchdog did not offer an update.

“As it does with all companies, the Agency is banking on a collaborative approach with Air Canada and CN,” said its spokesperson, Chantal Bouchard. He is continuing discussions with the two companies. »

In a statement, the rail carrier said it wanted to “voluntarily register” with the OQLF, without specifying the accommodations sought. The railway also claims to have “responded quickly to each letter” by attributing the “multiple requests” against it to “administrative confusion with its subsidiaries”.

“Our discussions are productive and we hope to find common ground soon,” CN said.

At Air Canada, they say they are trying to “understand” how “the two language regimes, which are different while having common elements, could be applied in a reconcilable manner and without risk of conflict”.

Stains on file

Air Canada found itself at the heart of a fierce linguistic controversy in the fall of 2021 when its President and Chief Executive Officer, Michael Rousseau, claimed to have been able to live in Quebec, where he has lived since 2007, without speak French. Then, a little over a year ago, CN was harshly criticized for having temporarily closed the doors of its board of directors to Francophones.


Michael Rousseau, President and CEO of Air Canada

Consultant in corporate compliance with the Charter of the French language, Denis Villeneuve is not surprised by the steps taken by Air Canada and CN. Under the Charter of the French language, companies must limit the requirement of another and they must obtain a francization certificate.

“There are exemptions, but the Office grants them only bit by bit,” says Mr. Villeneuve. This explains why we find ourselves in more difficult situations. »

The OQLF’s initiatives are taking place against a backdrop of modernization of the Official Languages ​​Act of Canada following the tabling of Bill C-13 last year. For now, the piece of legislation provides that companies under federal jurisdiction will be able to choose between the regulatory framework of Quebec and that of Ottawa.

The bill is still being studied by a parliamentary committee. In theory, there could be amendments.

With William Leclerc, The Press

Learn more

  • 150
    Number of companies that requested the suspension of Law 96 in an open letter last August

    Source : the press

    Year in which the francization obligation threshold for a business will drop from 50 to 25 employees

    Source: OQLF

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