An apology isn’t enough, as the hundreds of protesters who gathered in front of Air Canada’s main office in Montreal have estimated. They denounced the monolingualism of the airline’s CEO, Michael Russo.
The marchers waved Quebec flags to the sound of drums in a festive atmosphere. “Rousseau makes air,” they chanted.
On November 3, the Air Canada CEO announced that he had lived nearly 14 years in Montreal without having to speak French, and that “it’s an honor for the city.”
These remarks he made following his address to the Montreal Chamber of Commerce (CCMM) sparked controversy, and provoked intense criticism within the political class. Mr. Rousseau gave a speech almost exclusively in English. ”
Attacking the French is like attacking all of us,” said Marie-Anne Allen, General President of the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Montreal, which organized the event.
NSI Allen decries that Air Canada is not honoring its language business plan. “Air Canada demonstrates true leadership among large Canadian companies in promoting bilingualism,” says the airline’s 2020-2023 plan. The document notes that bilingualism is being promoted both at Air Canada’s head office in Montreal and elsewhere in the world.
“We wanted to put pressure on Air Canada’s board of directors,” Mary Ann Allen continues. “It is as if Mr. Rousseau has come to the wrong place at the wrong time for him, but at the same time, for us, it is just the tip of the iceberg. French lessons are good, but he does not really believe in them.”
Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste’s chief general is wondering if Mr Rousseau could be Air Canada’s CEO, if he wasn’t in a position to respect the Official Languages Act. “Air Canada should be exemplary,” she said.
Michael Russo apologized after keeping his controversial words, saying that he in no way wanted to disrespect Quebecers and French-speakers across the country. He is also committed to “improving his French”.
As of last Monday, more than 2,000 complaints had been received at the Ottawa Official Languages Commissioner’s Office regarding the airline’s CEO’s letter. Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland asked Rousseau earlier this week to learn French, stressing that the situation was “unacceptable”.
In the process, the head of SNC-Lavalin announced Thursday that he was postponing a speech he was due to give to the business community, in order to improve his French before speaking.
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