Notes for an appearance before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Official Languages – Report on the audit of the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority

Ottawa, Ontario, May 4, 2017
Ghislaine Saikaley - Interim Commissioner of Official Languages

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Mr. Chair, honourable members of the Committee, good morning.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to present my audit report of bilingual services to the travelling public provided by the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA), published only a few weeks ago.

CATSA is a relatively young organization: it was established as an agent Crown corporation in 2002. Since then, my office has conducted several exercises to help the institution understand and meet its official languages obligations.

In 2012, as part of an exercise on the language rights of the travelling public in airports, my office conducted observations of CATSA at eight international airports. The institution received perfect scores for visual active offer, but it had some work to do to improve in-person active offer and ensure the availability of service in the official language of the linguistic minority.

Despite this feedback, in 2014–2015 CATSA ranked second among the institutions that generated the most complaints to my office under Part IV of the Official Languages Act, which governs communications with the public.

My office therefore conducted an audit of CATSA from December 2015 to March 2016 to determine to what extent it is meeting its language obligations to the travelling public.

Airport security screening officers, who are in fact third-party service providers acting on behalf of CATSA, have a demanding job with very specific tasks. The first priority in their work is to ensure the safety and security of the travelling public in airports.

  • Before passengers or their belongings enter the secure area of a Canadian airport, they are screened by these officers at airport screening checkpoints. This is a mandatory part of the pre‑boarding process for the travelling public.
  • These screening officers must meet the appropriate language obligations and Transport Canada standards.

An active offer of services in both official languages at checkpoints is particularly important in situations where the people providing a service are in a position of authority. This is when an active offer of bilingual services becomes crucial: travellers must know right from the start that services are available in both official languages when passing through screening checkpoints and when interacting with screening officers.

Our audit looked primarily at a specific area in which CATSA provides services: screening passengers, their carry-on baggage and their personal belongings at screening checkpoints in Class 1 airports, which are those with at least one million passengers per year and are therefore required to provide services in both official languages under the Official Languages Act.

The audit had four objectives.

  • Verify whether CATSA senior management is committed to implementing Part IV of the Act, which governs communications with and services to the public, in order to guarantee that passengers have the opportunity to be served in the official language of their choice.
  • Verify whether CATSA has a formal mechanism for active offer and for ensuring that services of equal quality in English and French are provided during all steps of the airport security screening process.
  • Verify whether CATSA takes the needs of official language minority communities into account in the planning of its bilingual services.
  • And verify whether CATSA effectively monitors the delivery of services of equal quality in English and French by the third-party service providers who are contracted to provide services at screening checkpoints in airports.

Our audit included the following findings:

  • The institution’s senior management has made a number of efforts to integrate official languages into its work, in accordance with the principles and responsibilities set out in CATSA’s official languages policy.
  • Despite CATSA’s efforts to clearly communicate its official languages obligations to all service provider employees, screening officers do not always greet the travelling public in both official languages, and the available services are not always of equal quality in both official languages.
  • The language skills of screening officers are not evaluated in the same way by the various service providers across Canada. There is also a lack of uniformity in the official languages training these service providers provide to screening officers.
  • CATSA does not know the optimal number of bilingual employees necessary to ensure that service is available in the official language of the linguistic minority at all times.
  • The current standard set out in the language clauses of third-party contracts does not guarantee service of equal quality.
  • CATSA does not consult official language minority communities regarding services.
  • CATSA does check passenger satisfaction with services provided in the preferred official language. However, only a small number of Francophones are surveyed, and the current methodology makes it difficult to determine the accuracy of the results regarding services provided to Francophones.
  • CATSA has conducted an evaluation of the quality of services provided to the travelling public, and it included an official languages component.

Appendix B of the audit lists my 15 recommendations and includes CATSA’s comments and action plan, as well as my comments.

For the most part, I am satisfied with the measures and timeframes the institution has proposed. Its action plan will likely result in significant improvements to its performance and in tangible improvements to its service to passengers.

I urge CATSA to re-examine its response to both my third recommendation—to review the linguistic identification of director and general manager positions in the regions—and my eighth recommendation—to review its official languages standards under the Contract Compliance Program. I also encourage it to ensure that the consequences of failing to meet these new standards are consistent across all regions.

Ultimately, CATSA must fully implement all of the recommendations in the audit report in order to meet its obligations under the Act in terms of communications with and services to the public in both official languages.

My office will conduct a follow-up to the recommendations in the next 18 to 24 months.

I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

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