March 22, 2002
This is a story about what's wrong with
No, it's not about our underequipped
military, why the dollar is now on par with Canadian Tire money, or
how some people think we should buy more guns, drop our healthcare
and call ourselves Americans.
So please don't get me wrong. I happen to
think there's a lot right with this country. But the other day I saw
an article in the paper that just about sums up one of our major
A man is suing Air Canada because he
couldn't get served in French.
It wouldn't be so strange except for the
fact that the man who demanded to be served in French was perfectly
able to speak English. He is a fluently bilingual House of Commons
I know, I know - the French Canadians feel
like they've been dominated by the English, even though most of the
Anglos sold their houses and bugged out years ago. The right to
speak French outside of Quebec has been treated as symbolic of how
unappreciated and misunderstood they are in Canada. And being able
to receive essential services in both official languages is
important - although my own grandparents left Quebec when they
couldn't get their driver's license application in English anymore.
Apparently our bilingual passenger wanted a
7-Up, but the flight attendant couldn't understand what he was
asking for because she couldn't speak French. Funny, I always
thought the French word for 7-Up is "7-Up".
Anyway, somehow it turned into an ugly
"you're not serving me because I'm French, but I'm still going
to refuse to speak to you in English because this isn't really about
my wanting a 7-Up" sort of thing.
When he was finally served a Sprite, he
demanded to see the captain. Of course, captains of all Air Canada
flights are responsible for not only such trivial things as flying
the airplane, they also have to make sure passenger drink orders are
taken properly and mediate official languages disputes. Maybe he
could have explained that in spite of the advertising, Sprite and
7-Up taste pretty much the same.
Anyway, it ended up with the police being
called in case the disturbance got out of hand, and the thirsty
passenger filing a complaint with the Commissioner of Official
Languages. The Commissioner upheld the complaint, and so the
passenger is now suing Air Canada for half a million dollars. That's
a lot of 7-Up. Or Sprite.
The complaint is about the passenger's not
being allowed to communicate in the language of his choice. Maybe
I'm wrong but I always thought communication is all about making
yourself understood. It's about getting along with people.
It's one thing to not be understood. It's
another to refuse to be understood when you easily could be. And
ideally, we'd all be able to speak English, French and a half dozen
other useful languages. But I wasn't there and have no idea who was
acting badly in this exchange, although I doubt any can of pop is
worth all this fuss.
All I know is the whole incident made me
think of what's wrong with this country - that we're perfectly
capable of understanding each other, but sometimes we just refuse
What we should be doing is drinking our 7-Up
and just trying to do our best to get along