Air Canada CEO Forced To Apologize For Bad French

Air Canada CEO Michael Rousseau's ability to speak French is the subject of some controversy.
Air Canada CEO is criticized for his French accent

Canada's Official Languages Act makes English and French the official languages. Businesses are required to provide services in the language they prefer. This can sometimes cause problems, as not everyone speaks French well enough to understand. Air Canada has been sued for this in the past.

This brings us to Air Canada's CEO. Air Canada's CEO was based in Montreal on Wednesday, his first major speech since taking over his current position. It lasted 26 minutes and was only 20 seconds long in French.

Following his speech, he answered questions from reporters. He was asked by a French journalist (in French) about his ability to live in Montreal for 14 year while speaking very little French. Rousseau replied:

Could you please redo this in English? Because I want you to understand my question before I answer it.

He preferred that Rousseaus' representative translate the question, said the journalist. She replied that Rousseau had already answered that question in his speech. The journalist then repeated the question in English.

It is difficult to live in Montreal if you don't speak French. It's not easy.

Rousseau replied with the following:

I have been able to stay in Montreal for years without knowing French. This is a testament to Montreal.

You can see the interaction here.

Air Canada's CEO speaks out

Rousseau is being criticized by many Quebecers, including:

Simon Jolin-Barrette, Quebec Justice Minister, stated that Air Canada's big boss is expressing everything we rejected decades back: contempt for Quebec's language and culture. He also claimed that these words were unworthy of the position he holds.

Dominique Anglade, Quebec Liberal Party Leader, called the comments disrespectful and appalling. He stated that Air Canada does not fully understand the consequences of its decision to appoint a French-speaking CEO.

Fdration des communautés francophones et acadienne de Canada President stated that Rousseau should be reprimanded for his insensitivity and lack of respect for francophones

Rousseau issued a statement following the incident and the backlash that the airline has received. Rousseau apologized for his comments and promised to improve his French. Here's the statement

It is important to clarify that I did not mean to disrespect Quebecers or francophones in the United States. I apologise to anyone who was offended by my comments. Today, I promise to improve my French, which is an official language in Canada, and to tackle the serious commercial issues facing Air Canada as we transition from the pandemic to normal. For me and my entire executive team, it is an honor that this iconic company is located in Montreal. Air Canada's commitment to French respect is reiterated and I, as a leader will set the tone.

Bottom line

After yesterday's speech in Montreal, Air Canada's new CEO was unable to answer basic French questions. This prompted backlash. Air Canada has its headquarters in Montreal. Rousseau is a 14-year resident. He apologized and promised to improve his French.

What do you think of the French controversy at Air Canada