The Office of the Official Languages Commissioner is investigating a complaint from a francophone Toronto man who says he was escorted off a Porter Airlines flight “like a terrorist” after demanding service in French.
Louis Labrecque filed two complaints — one against Porter and another against Ports Toronto, which operates the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport.
But the complaint against Porter has already been dismissed. An investigation is underway into the complaint against the airport.
Labrecque, who did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment, told Le Droit newspaper that he was on board a Porter flight from Montreal to Toronto on July 1 when he asked for a “jus de pomme.”
The flight attendant responded that they did not speak French.
Then just before landing, Labrecque says he was given a safety instruction in English only and at that point, he raised his voice.
He says none of the three security agents who escorted him off the plane spoke French and he had to wait about 10 minutes at the airport before a French-speaking agent arrived.
He felt “humiliated” by the experience, he told Le Droit.
“I was close to tears. Despite all the complaints, the situation is deteriorating,” says Lebrecque, who told the newspaper he has made many complaints to the commission over the past three decades.
The thing is, Porter Airlines is not subject to the Official Languages Act.
“Only Air Canada is subject to the Official Languages Act,” says Nelson Kalil, a spokesman for the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.
Air Canada was originally a federal government entity and remained subject to the federal act after the airline was privatized decades ago.
Delivery of security announcements at the beginning of a flight in both English and French is a Transport Canada regulation.
As for bilingual services on board a flight, “they’re under no obligation,” Kalil says.
The commissioner is looking into the complaint about Billy Bishop airport, as any airport that serves more than one million passengers a year has to abide by the Official Languages Act.
“There’s a matter of what’s considered reasonable with regards to obtaining service in your language of your choice,” Kalil says. “In a case of security, there would need to be someone at the airport who could provide service in English or French to deal with a passenger.”
Ports Toronto confirmed that airport staff were alerted to a security situation by the flight crew.
Security personnel were sent to escort a passenger from the flight “following an altercation aboard the plane that posed a safety concern to crew and passengers,” the agency says in an emailed statement.
Three security staff met the plane upon landing.
“The initial call was for security reasons pertaining to an aggressive passenger and no specific details were disclosed at this time. As soon as we were made aware of the passenger’s desire to communicate in French, we made arrangements to do so,” Ports Toronto says. “A representative from the airline, who spoke both official languages, was called in to facilitate resolution of the situation.”
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