Canada Bilingualism: Airports To Be Observed By Commissioner Of Official Languages Office

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Air Canada planes sit on the tarmac as many baggage handlers walked off the job at Pierre Trudeau airport Friday, March 23, 2012, in Montreal. A wildcat strike by Air Canada ground workers that started in Toronto and spread to other airports ended Friday, several hours after Canada's largest airline was forced to cancel more than two dozen flights. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Ryan Remiorz) | AP

OTTAWA - Canada's bilingualism watchdog is going undercover at eight major airports to see if travellers are served equally well in English and French.

Official Languages Commissioner Graham Fraser says his office will conduct more than 1,500 anonymous observations this fall at airports in Halifax, Quebec City, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver.

He says audits of some of those airports have been done in the past, but this will be the first time so many are done at once.

"I've been interested in the language rights of the travelling public really throughout my mandate," Fraser said Wednesday.

"So at different times, we've been looking at different aspects of what the traveller's experience is. We've looked at border services, we've done an audit of Air Canada's service to the public, and now we're looking at airports."

All airports that serve more than one million passengers a year must provide services in both English and French.

The commissioner will check if signs are in both official languages, if staff offer a bilingual greeting to travellers and if services are available in French in predominantly English-speaking parts of the country and in English in French-speaking parts.

Past audits have resulted in airports becoming more bilingual, Fraser said, pointing to airport bookstores adding French titles to their shelves, or tuning television sets by the baggage carousels to channels in both languages.

The commissioner's office says the project will include observations of Air Canada's services on the ground and in the air on flights designated as bilingual.

"We get a lot of complaints about Air Canada," Fraser said.

"Often there are complaints about announcements that are not made in both languages, services that are not given by personnel. It's often directed at Air Canada, but sometimes it also applies to the airport authorities themselves."

It will also look at the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority's third-party services in security areas.

The commissioner's office will share its recommendations with the airports after it finishes the survey.

"Once people are aware that this is what they should be doing, they're often pretty good and pretty imaginative in creating an environment in which both languages are seen and heard."

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