Saturday, July 16, 2011

We've all been sept-up.

In spring of 2009, Michel Thibodeau, a bilingual Ottawa man, ordered a Sprite on an Air Canada flight in French, and was served a 7-UP. He probably didn't realize that one is produced by Coke, and the other by Pepsi, and that they are mutually exclusive because most restaurants and services have to sign a distribution contract with one or the other.

When the server made the mistake and gave him a 7-UP, he or she also made the mistake of not serving him in the language of his choice. Perhaps it was in the way he ordered, or that he finds fault with everything, but he sued, saying that his right to be served in whichever language of his choice had been abrogated.

If that wasn't enough, Justice Marie-Josée Bédard ordered that Air Canada pay $12,000.00 in damages, citing that: “Awarding damages in this case will serve the purpose of emphasizing the importance of the rights at issue, and will have a deterrent effect."

I have a few problems with this. The largest is that these people are bilingual. Anyone in their right mind can see that he could have ordered and done whatever he wanted in English when he saw the server stumbling to explain her error. That's a 'nice' thing, not a 'language' thing. These sorts of cases simply do not happen in countries like Switzerland, with their three official languages, because they had the sense not to try to legislate that services were offered this way. They get along. However, we in Canada have the Official Languages Act, ostensibly, because we can't.

The way I see it, the idiocy is twofold. First, in the way he handled it. If he'd been fully French with no English, he'd have a point. Maybe not a $12,000.00 point, but a point. Heaven forbid he actually try to get by in another language like the hundreds of thousands who come to our country from elsewhere in the world and who, through the other communication techniques we've all been given, get by. No, he had to make a conscious choice to be a dick. There's no nice way of putting it.

The second failing is in the lawsuit and the subsequent judgment. Sure, Air Canada is now privatized, but still holds many of the policies of the old government service, and should rightfully be offered in both official languages. Ordering the review of their policies and new tracking systems was a great way to address the issue, and my hat is off to the Justice for that part of her ruling. Here's where it gets sticky, though. She ordered money to be paid, and one has to then ask how much is an affront like this worth?

(Because really, this was an affront. He wasn't in danger of being left behind in an emergency. He wasn't threatened, or afraid for his safety or the safety of his wife. He wasn't in jeopardy of illness for the denial of essential services. He got the wrong pop.)

Lets put $12,000.00 in perspective. If I'm dismembered at work, but not killed, I get $25,000.00 from my policy. A crane ripping off my limbs would only pay little over double what he was given for the inconvenience of being bilingual and not being able to order his drink in French.

Since Air Canada was bailed out more than once by the Federal Government, one could easily extend the argument that one of us poor suckers had to pay that much in taxes to give it to him. So the way my simple mind sees it, is that I worked my ass off so he could complain about a soft drink and take the money that I paid in federal tax. This is where it should get somewhat personal, for every Canadian. I know I'm pissed.

Does he not have to prove inconvenience, or damages, or something to justify the $12,000.00? What exactly IS the value of getting the wrong drink? Michel, for not getting the $1.50 can of soda pop he asked for, raked in a good portion of the money I payed in taxes last year. Did this server lose their job? Did Air Canada force retraining? Over a 7-UP? Was there not one other person on staff who could have served this drink in French and saved taxpayers $12,000.00?

For Michel Thibodeau, the value he tried to sue for was $500,000.00. Yes. a half-mil for not getting service in French, when HE UNDERSTOOD THE ENGLISH. Perhaps some more perspective. This is five times (!) the amount my family would get if I was killed on the job, never to come home again. For one can of pop.

When I went to the Canadian History Museum on the Plains of Abraham, I did not sue for the inconvenience of their not offering service in English (which they didn't), forcing me (gasp!) to use my French (which I did). Why not, you ask? Because I'm native English, and the tables are turned. I speak both languages, and I wouldn't have said boo about a French speaking Canadian working in the province of Quebec in the tourist industry. It's not in my nature. So why did Michel think this was such an affront, worth half a million dollars?

For that matter, what happens when English tourists start demanding all their services in English in Quebec? Living in Montreal for eight years, I can count dozens of times that I was not offered service in English from Federal offices. But this is not about language. It's about someone being a dick. Michel Thibodeau has sued Air Canada three times in five years. Obviously he thinks of it as a free ride.

So I have an idea. He's proven himself to be a pattern abuser of the legal system. Have him put on the no-fly list. In both languages. See how far he gets with suing individuals when they spit in his Sprite ... er, 7-UP.

Oh, the pictures are from here, and here.

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