It is precisely because the situation has lasted for many years that Commissioner Fraser deemed it sufficiently important to ask Parliament to study the matter.
The study undertaken by your committee is thus extremely important, in order to analyze the options presented in the special report, and to provide recommendations to Parliament on appropriate legislative amendments.
Since the commissioner has elected to turn to Parliament on this very important issue, your work will enable Parliament to give clear guidance to the government on what, if any, legislative changes it should be considering.
Allow me now to speak to you about the potential solutions proposed in section 3 of the special report.
In section 3 of the special report, Commissioner Fraser concludes that the current methods of enforcement have had little effect on Air Canada's level of compliance. Therefore, he submits four options for consideration by Parliament that could strengthen the current enforcement scheme.
The enforcement mechanisms presented as options by the commissioner are: enforceable or compliance agreements, statutory damages, fines, and administrative monetary penalties.
Let me walk you through each of these options.
First, enforceable agreements or compliance agreements have recently been added to the tool box of the Privacy Commissioner. Under a compliance agreement, an organization agrees to take certain measures to bring itself into compliance with the act. While it would be a step in the right direction, this tool alone would not guarantee success and would be effective only if used in conjunction with other options.
The second option is that of statutory damages. The Air Canada Public Participation Act could be amended in order to give the Federal Court the power to grant statutory damages. This type of damage is different, since the plaintiff does not have to prove that the offence has caused injury. A range of damages could be provided for different offences in the law so that the Federal Court could evaluate the appropriate amount in light of various factors.
A third option examined in the report is fines. Since fines can be an incentive to comply with the law, the Air Canada Public Participation Act could be amended to include a list of various violations for which fines would be determined. This type of sanction is not new in the area of language rights. For example, the Nunavut Official Languages Act and Quebec's Charter of the French Language contain provisions regarding fines that can be imposed by the courts. At the federal level, this tool is also available to other agents of Parliament: the Information Commissioner and the Commissioner of Lobbying have provisions for fines in their legislation.
Finally, the fourth option is administrative monetary penalties, AMPs. Many federal regimes already provide for this type of sanction. The AMPs are imposed by the organization charged with monitoring the application of the act rather than by the courts—in this case by the Office of the Commissioner.
Among officers of Parliament, the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner has the power to impose AMPs, and Air Canada is subject to several administrative monetary penalty regimes; for instance the Canadian Transportation Agency can impose AMPs on airline companies regarding advertising, prices and airline services.
Also, the Canada Border Services Agency and the Competition Tribunal have the power to impose administrative monetary penalties on airline companies, including Air Canada.
After reviewing the various options to strengthen the enforcement regime applicable to Air Canada, the report also mentions, on page 28, Air Canada's position that all airlines in Canada should have to provide services in both official languages. In our opinion, the standardization of language obligations would be an even stronger argument in favour of considering an appropriate enforcement framework.
Section 3 ends with an overview of the commissioner's position that, following Air Canada's restructuring, legislative amendments continue to be needed to maintain the language rights of the travelling public, as well as Air Canada employees.
The commissioner has reiterated many times in the past to successive ministers of transport the need to introduce a new bill. However, no legislative amendments have been made since 2004. The commissioner also mentions the need to amend the Carriage by Air Act to clarify that the Montreal Convention does not restrict the awarding of damages under the Official Languages Act.
In conclusion, despite sporadic improvements and promising action plans, the commissioner was of the opinion that the time had come to note that the powers he had under the law were insufficient with regard to Air Canada. Since this special report to Parliament is the last tool the commissioner had, he recommended to Parliament that the study of this report be entrusted to one of the two standing committees on official languages.
We believe that your report will be decisive with regard to the future of Air Canada's linguistic obligations and in light of that, we would like to propose the names of certain witnesses who could also contribute to your study. We have given the clerk a list containing a few suggestions.
In addition, we prepared a condensed summary of excerpts from relevant documents. Some of them are quoted in our special report and concern the issues that are discussed in it.
I thank you on behalf of my colleagues. We will be happy to answer your questions to the best of our ability.