Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages

January 21, 2010 08:30 ET

Official Languages Slow to Take Off at the Halifax Airport, Says Graham Fraser

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Jan. 21, 2010) - An audit report published today by the Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser, shows that the Halifax Airport Authority has only just begun to take action to meet its linguistic obligations, ten years after assuming full responsibility for managing the airport.

"There is still a long way to go until the airport becomes a place where full and efficient services are available in both official languages," emphasized Mr. Fraser. "My audit report shows that most concessionaires have a vague or mistaken understanding of their linguistic obligations." The Airport Authority will therefore take measures to improve the situation.

The audit focused on the Airport Authority's official languages program and on concessionaires that provide services to the travelling public, such as car rental and foreign exchange merchants.

"The Airport Authority has an important coordination role vis-a-vis the different organizations that offer services at the airport," explained Graham Fraser. "For this reason, many of my recommendations are aimed at ensuring that the Airport Authority fully assume its leadership role, in order to improve the bilingual services of all organizations at the airport."

"However, I do not want to downplay the progress that has been made. In certain respects, the Halifax Airport Authority is headed in the right direction," indicated Mr. Fraser. "Some improvements were in fact made over the course of the audit. For instance, creating the position of Official Languages Champion and adopting an accountability framework may not strike travellers as visible improvements in services, but they are still important measures." The Airport Authority has also carried out spot checks of the quality of its bilingual service.

The Airport Authority indicated that it would follow up on several of the Commissioner's recommendations. However, it does not intend to implement certain key recommendations without special funding from the federal government. This approach is unacceptable for Graham Fraser, who noted that many of the country's airports show better performance in the area of official languages than that of the Halifax airport, without receiving special funding from the government.

"These obligations are not new," stressed Graham Fraser. "The Airport Authority has been required to apply the Official Languages Act since it assumed responsibility for managing the airport, ten years ago."

The Commissioner noted that, since the responsibility to manage airports was transferred, the federal government has done little to clarify linguistic obligations or ensure that the language rights of the Canadian public are respected. With the federal government turning a blind eye, airport authorities tend to take a minimalist approach to their obligations.

"The airports' often disappointing results for official languages can be partly attributed to the lack of leadership and guidelines from the federal government," said Mr. Fraser. "My office has been urging the government to develop policies to rectify the situation for years, but the Treasury Board and Transport Canada have not responded. In my latest annual report, I once again call on the Minister of Transport to protect and uphold the language rights of the travelling public."

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