Madam Chair and honourable members, thank you for inviting me to this meeting. It is an exceptional privilege to have the opportunity to present the perspective of air travellers today.
Air Passenger Rights is an independent, non-profit network of volunteers devoted to empowering travellers through education, advocacy, investigation, and litigation. Our Air Passenger Rights Canada group on Facebook has more than 5,000 members.
My name is Dr. Gábor Lukács and I am the founder and coordinator of Air Passenger Rights, which grew out of my advocacy for the rights of Canadian travellers. Since 2008, I've filed 26 successful regulatory complaints against airlines, relating to issues such as liability for baggage damage, delay and loss of baggage, flight delay, flight cancellation, and compensation for involuntary denied boarding.
I'm here today to deliver a cautionary message. Bill C-49 does not address the key issue of lack of enforcement of the rights of passengers in Canada, it does not adequately protect Canadian passengers, and it falls short of the rights provided by the European Union's regime. I will be expanding on each of these issues in turn.
The lack of adequate legislation is often blamed for the woes of passengers. This is a myth. The Montreal convention is an international treaty that protects passengers travelling on international itineraries. It covers a wealth of areas: damage, delay, and loss of baggage, up to $2,000; delay of passengers, over $8,000; and even coverage in the event of injury or death. The Montreal convention is part of the Carriage by Air Act and it has the force of law in Canada.
Canada also requires airlines to set out the terms and conditions of travel in clear language in a so-called tariff. Failure of an airline to apply the terms and conditions of the tariff is punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and is an offence punishable also on summary conviction. Thus, the existing laws, regulations, and regulatory decisions could provide substantial protection for Canadian passengers if only they were enforced by the regulator, the Canadian Transportation Agency. The trouble is that the agency has abdicated its duty to enforce the law. As you see in this diagram, which shows the statistics for the past four years, the number of complaints has soared, nearly quadrupled over the past four years, while the number of enforcement actions has dropped by an equal factor of four.
The agency has also been criticized by the Federal Court of Appeal. In a recent judgment, Justice de Montigny found that the agency erred by ignoring not only the wording of the Canada Transportation Act, but its purpose and intent. Justice de Montigny went on to remind the agency that it has a role to also ensure that the policies pursued by the legislator—you parliamentarians—are carried out. There's no doubt these laws can be improved, and it is our position that they should be. However, without enforcement, the law will remain that letter. Bill C-49, as it is reads now, does nothing to remedy this state of affairs.
Bill C-49 suffers from numerous major shortcomings. It misses important areas of passenger protection altogether and undermines existing rights in other areas. First, the bill does not create an enforcement mechanism or any financial consequences for airlines that break the rules, that disobey the rules that are laid down. Thus, breaking the rules remains the most profitable course of action for airlines. Second, the bill offers no protection for the most vulnerable passengers: children travelling alone and persons with disabilities. Third, the bill hinders advocacy groups—such as Air Passenger Rights—in protecting the rights of passengers by barring most preventive complaints that seek intervention before anyone could suffer damages.
All but one of the 26 complaints I brought and that I mentioned earlier were successful and were of this preventive nature. I was not personally adversely affected, but the practices that I challenged were clearly harmful and were recognized as such.
We recommend that the committee remove from the bill the proposed section 67.3 found in clause 17 of the bill.
Fourth, contrary to the testimony of Transport Canada officials that you heard on Monday, Bill C-49 does not provide protection that is comparable to the European Union's regime. For the all-too-common event of mechanical malfunction, the bill proposes to actually relieve airlines of the obligation to compensate passengers for inconvenience. This is cleverly hidden in proposed subparagraph 86.11(1)(b)(ii).
In sharp contrast, the European Union's regime recognizes that it is the responsibility of the airlines to adequately maintain their fleets and requires airlines to compensate passengers for inconvenience in the event that the flight is delayed or cancelled because of mechanical malfunction.
We recommend that the committee amend paragraph 86.11(1)(b) to clarify that in the event of mechanical malfunction, airlines are liable to compensate passengers for their inconvenience.
Fifth, the bill takes a step backward with respect to long tarmac delays by doubling the acceptable tarmac delay from the current Canadian standard of 90 minutes to three hours. This is a step backward. It's actually clawing back our existing rights as passengers.
We recommend that the committee amend paragraph 86.11(1)(f) by replacing three hours with 90 minutes and thereby restore the status quo.
In closing, we would also like to draw attention to some troubling facts that deepen our concerns about the impartiality and integrity of the Canadian Transportation Agency. Before this bill is passed by Parliament and before any public consultation takes place about the regulations to be developed, the agency has already sought IATA's input with respect to the regulations that the agency is to draft.
IATA is the International Air Transport Association. It represents the private interests of the airline industry. In our view, this was in disregard of the parliamentary process and of the rule of law. Evidence showing this, for the record, is found in an affidavit submitted by IATA in Supreme Court of Canada file number 37276.
We have also received reports from passengers about agency staff turning them away, unceremoniously advising them that their complaint filed with the agency would be closed. The agency did not make a decision or order dismissing these complaints, yet complainants were made to understand that their complaint had been dismissed. Complainants were either not informed about their right to ask for formal adjudication or were discouraged from exercising that right by agency staff.
In our view, the agency has lost its independence, and the integrity of its consumer protection activities has been compromised. The agency's actions and failure to act to enforce the law, as we see right in the statistics, have undermined public confidence in the agency's impartiality.
We recommend that the committee amend the bill to transfer regulation-making power from the agency to the minister and transfer other responsibilities relating to air passenger rights to a separate consumer protection body.
I would like to thank you for the opportunity to present the concerns of air travellers to the committee. A brief outlining these concerns and also providing detailed recommendations on how to salvage the bill has already been submitted.