Air Canada cuts number of language complaints, still gets more than any other regulated institution

Despite a decrease in the number of complaints filed against Air Canada over language-related issues, the airline still gets more language complaints nationwide than any other institution, says Commissioner of Official Languages Raymond Théberge.

In his annual report, presented Tuesday morning, Théberge’s office said it received 847 valid complaints during the 2023-2024 year — less than half the number it received the previous year. Of these, 15 per cent — 130 complaints — were related to Air Canada.

“This year there was a decrease in the number of complaints with respect to Air Canada from 276 to 130. However, Air Canada is still the institution that receives the most complaints generally, every year,” said Théberge.

“The number received this year represents more of a historical average than in the past and I think it still indicates that there are challenges with respect to Air Canada to meet their language obligations.”

Air Canada spokesperson Christopher Hennebelle said the company has taken note of the commissioner’s report.

“The number of complaints we received has been reduced by more than half since last year, while the number of passengers we carried has increased significantly, from 37 to 46 million. That’s a significant improvement,” said Hennebelle, adding that an Official Languages Action Plan is in the works and should be released later this year.

Hennebelle also noted that among the institutions that are subject to the Official Languages Act, Air Canada is the one that has the most interactions with the public.

Decrease in complaints nationwide

Théberge said the number of complaints filed in 2023-2024 “are a bit of a contrast to the very high volumes of complaints” lodged in the previous years.

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He said he’s unable to state whether this decrease is a result of federal institutions adhering more closely to official languages law, or whether this trend will continue.

Théberge pointed out that significant events often affect the number of complaints received in a given year. He cited an example from two years ago, when the CEO of Air Canada delivered a speech exclusively in English, resulting in over 2,000 complaints.

“What tends to happen is once you have an incident which has this kind of attention, Canadians become quite aware of their language rights and during those times they tend to make more complaints. This year, we did not have this kind of incident,” he said.

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