Letter to the Editor - Calgary Herald

January 17, 2014

I read with interest your editorial arguing that federal regulations concerning language obligations in airports should not be enforced (“Federal language police should give workers a break,” January 15).

As the editorial rightly notes, the regulations describe which services are required to be provided in both languages in airports that handle over a million passengers a year. There is a reason why members of the travelling public have particular language rights when they travel across Canada.

I recall an English-speaking journalist who had been very critical of federal language policy admitting to me that when he was in Quebec City covering a political convention, he had a great feeling of relief when he was in the taxi heading to the airport, because he knew he could get service in English. Every Canadian should have that same sense of relief.

The regulations concerning the travelling public have been in place since 1992, meaning that airports have had 22 years to implement what is required. These regulations do not exist, as the editorial suggests, to harass hard-working service employees. They exist to provide an essential service to Canadians. And, with an imaginative and innovative approach, that service can be provided without requiring that all employees speak English and French.

Let me give you two examples. In Ottawa, there is a Booster Juice outlet at the airport that offers smoothies and sandwiches. On the wall behind the counter, there is a large menu with the names of products in both languages. Employees do not have to be bilingual in order to recognize the product names. Similarly, at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, there is a restaurant with a menu on an electronic tablet. Customers can order in the language of their choice—and the order will be understood by staff.

The editorial implies that there is a conflict between multiculturalism and bilingualism, between cultural diversity and linguistic duality. On the contrary: the two policies have their origin in the recommendations of the same Royal Commission. In fact, French-speaking minority communities across Canada are becoming as culturally diverse as English-speaking communities.

Finally, the editorial suggests that it is hypocritical to have federal language policies that protect English and French when Quebec has a language policy of unilingualism. In fact, Canada has a wide spectrum of provincial language policies. There is one officially bilingual province, one officially unilingual French province and eight provinces where English is the official language. It is precisely because of this wide difference in language rights at the provincial level that it is so important that language rights at the federal level be respected.

If Canadians are not aware of their language rights, they cannot expect those rights to be respected. Likewise, if there is no request for services, they will not be provided. The purpose of our latest information campaign is to ensure that members of the travelling public—whether Anglophone or Francophone—are aware of their rights in our country’s airports.

Graham Fraser, Commissioner of Official Languages

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