Air Canada and Canadian National (CN) have had their ears pulled at least twice because they are slow to comply with the Charter of the French language. The Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) was even forced to serve them a warning last fall to get things moving.

In the months leading up to this warning, the two latecomers seem to have ignored invitations from the Quebec institution, indicate documents obtained by La Presse under the Act respecting access to documents held by public bodies and the protection of personal information. While the country’s largest railroad is hinting that it may “soon” comply, Canada’s major air carrier is less specific.

The two companies – which have found themselves at the center of linguistic storms – are among the small minority of companies under federal jurisdiction that are still not registered with the OQLF. The deadline was set for December 1.

“You only have a few days left to do it,” warns the Agency in two letters to Air Canada and CN dated November 25. “The NEB could […] issue an order to your company to comply with or cease contravening the provisions of the Charter. »

In effect since June 1, the Act respecting the official and common language of Quebec, French – often referred to as “Bill 96” – has brought about significant changes in the business world. It requires federally chartered businesses with more than 50 people to register with the OQLF. We must therefore generalize the use of French at all levels of the company, under penalty of sanctions. Articles of Law 96 are being challenged in court.

There are “more than 95%” of affected companies that are registered, the Office says. Companies in the telecommunications sectors like Rogers Communications and Telus are on the NEB’s list of certified companies, alongside others like the Bank of Montreal and divisions of other major Canadian banks.

The cases of Air Canada and CN – whose head offices are in Montreal – have a particularity: they are companies under federal jurisdiction which are also subject to the Official Languages ​​Act – which is accompanied by obligations concerning the use of French and English.

A first reminder was sent by the Agency to Air Canada CEO Amos Kazzaz and CN President and CEO Tracy Robinson on August 17. Both companies were reminded of their radio silence following the submission of the listing request.

“We see that you have not complied with this request,” Mr. Kazzaz and Ms. Robinson are told. Again, please provide this information. »

It was not possible to obtain all the exchanges between the OQLF, Air Canada and CN. The Quebec institution says it did not obtain their “consent” to disclose communications from each of the companies.

The French language watchdog did not offer an update.

“As it does with all companies, the Agency is taking a collaborative approach with Air Canada and CN,” said Agency spokesperson Chantal Bouchard. He is continuing discussions with the two companies. »

In a statement, the rail carrier said it wanted to “voluntarily register” with the OQLF, but did not specify the accommodations sought. The railroad also claims to have “promptly responded to every letter” blaming the “multiple inquiries” against it on “administrative confusion with its subsidiaries.”

“Our discussions are productive and we hope to find common ground soon,” CN said.

At Air Canada, they say they are trying to “understand” how “the two language regimes, which are different while having common elements, could be applied in a reconcilable manner and without risk of conflict”.

Air Canada found itself at the center of a fierce linguistic controversy in the fall of 2021 when its President and Chief Executive Officer, Michael Rousseau, claimed to have been able to live in Quebec, where he has been based since 2007, without speak French. Then, a little over a year ago, CN was harshly criticized for having temporarily closed the doors of its board of directors to Francophones.

Consultant in corporate compliance with the Charter of the French Language, Denis Villeneuve is not surprised by the steps taken by Air Canada and CN. Under the Charter of the French language, companies must limit the requirement of another and they must obtain a francization certificate.

“There are exemptions, but the Office only grants them in small amounts,” Villeneuve said. This explains why we find ourselves in more difficult situations. »

The OQLF’s efforts are taking place against a backdrop of modernization of Canada’s Official Languages ​​Act in the wake of the tabling of Bill C-13 last year. For now, the piece of legislation provides that companies under federal jurisdiction will be able to choose between the regulatory framework of Quebec and that of Ottawa.

The bill is still being studied by a parliamentary committee. In theory, there could be amendments.