A few years back a couple sued Air Canada claiming that the airline violated Canadian law by not offering in-flight beverage service in French. A Federal court sided with the couple and ordered the carrier to pay $12,000 in compensation. An appeals court overturned that case and eventually the issue went to Canada’s Supreme Court. And the supreme Court has now ruled: No compensation is due.
That’s news, I suppose, but what I really find interesting is the basis under which the Supreme Court of Canada denied the claim:
The Montreal Convention’s uniform and exclusive scheme of damages liability for international air carriers does not permit an award of damages for breach of language rights during international carriage by air. To hold otherwise would do violence to the text and purpose of the Montreal Convention, depart from Canada’s international obligations under it and put Canada off-side a strong international consensus concerning its scope and effect. The general remedial power under the OLA to award appropriate and just remedies cannot — and should not — be read as authorizing Canadian courts to depart from Canada’s international obligations under the Montreal Convention.
The passengers’ claims are an “action for damages” within the meaning of Article 29, as they claim damages for injuries, namely moral prejudice, pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of their vacation, suffered in the course of an international flight. Permitting an action in damages to compensate for moral prejudice, pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of a passenger’s vacation that does not otherwise fulfill the conditions of Article 17 of the Montreal Convention (because the action does not relate to death or bodily injury) would fly in the face of Article 29.
Essentially the Court held that because there were no true physical damages suffered by the couple that the Montreal Convention does not allow damages to be claimed, even if Canadian law does permit such. had there been physical harm suffered then the couple conceivably could seek compensation subject to the limits defined in that treaty. Canada’s obligation to international law trumps its federal statutes.
Also, in a “file this one under irony” sort of observation, there is a whole lot of French spoken in Montreal. Oopsie.
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The surprising thing for me is that there were no French speaking flight attendants on the flight, which I believe originated in Ottawa, a bilingual city. Air Canada only hires bilingual flight attendants, although since they took over WardAir and Canadian Airlines (albeit nearly 20 years ago) they must still have some staff who are unilingual (those 2 airlines apparently didn’t require FAs to speak 2 languages). Must have been irregular operations not to have French speaking staff aboard, and apparently one of the complained-about flights was international which is doubly surprising. Except for a short regional flight I don’t think I have ever been on an Air Canada flight where French wasn’t spoken.
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