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Man Asks For 7Up, Gets Sprite, Sues...and Wins

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"The applicants' language rights are clearly very important to them and the violation of their rights caused them a moral prejudice, pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of their vacation," wrote Justice Marie-Josee Bedard in her judgement, as she ordered Air Canada to pay $12,000 to Michel Thibodeau of Ottawa.


He asked an Air Canada fight attendant for 7Up and he got Sprite.

“I’m a little bit disappointed with the lower amount awarded,” Thibodeau said. “But the positive note is that the court recognized our rights were violated on several occasions.”


Okay, let's take it from the top. The Ottawa Citizen explains:

The Official Languages Act requires Air Canada to communicate and provide services in both official languages in the National Capital Region and elsewhere in Canada, "where there is significant demand for those services in the minority language and where it is warranted by the nature of the office or facility."

So, in 2009, when Thibodeau ordered a 7Up in French, and the English-speaking attendant brought him a -- gasp! -- different brand of lemon-lime soda, he sued.

“If I take a flight and I’m not served in the language of my choice, and I don’t do anything about it, then my right is basically dead,” Thibodeau told The Globe and Mail. “I was not asking for anything other than what I was already entitled to. I have a right to be served in French.”

It's a right that Thibodeau -- who is a federal employee and happens to speak perfect English -- takes very, very seriously.

Barbara Kay of the National Post says the Great 7Up Debacle of 2009 was "only one of many other humiliations suffered by Mr. Thibodeau and his wife Lynda."

"There were occasions when they were not served in French at airports in Toronto, Ottawa and Atlanta (although they were evidently able to manage in English everywhere else in that town, unless they brought their own interpreter)," she writes. "They also complained about lapses in French-language services aboard Air Canada Jazz flights between Canada and the U.S."

As it turns out, this is "not their first win," according to Kay. She continues:

When he was refused service in French while ordering a 7 Up on a 2000 Air Ontario flight from Montreal, he filed suit in Federal Court for $525,000 in damages (imagine how painful the sound of the English language must be to demand a half million dollars for suffering). The court ordered the airline to make a formal apology and pay him $5,375.95 -- odd number that; maybe it included the price of a 7 UP -- which is a far cry from what he asked, but still not a bad day’s take for filling out a form. No wonder it whetted their appetite for more.

Thibodeau also takes exception to the ground-based transport provided him on his home turf.

In 2007, Thibodeau "filed a complaint against the City of Ottawa, accusing it of not providing sufficient bilingual services on its buses."

“It’s been bothering me for a long time and I just said, enough is enough,” he told Metro news. “Just imagine if every announcement made by a bus driver would be made in French only. Can you imagine how many people would get frustrated?”

These days, buses in Ottawa feature "a fully-bilingual voice callout and text display for upcoming bus stops."

Just to play it safe, the City of Ottawa is "also working on improving the tone that’s played before an announcement is made as some passengers are mistaking the tonality with the bell ring for a requested stop."

Air Canada had no comment.
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