When Air Canada CEO Michael Rousseau was asked in French on Wednesday how he managed to live in Quebec’s largest city for 14 years without speaking the language, he paused and requested the question be posed in English.
In a 26-minute speech at the Palais des congrès in Montreal moments before, Rousseau only spoke French for about 20 seconds. While his understanding of the language is “fair,” he said, he struggles to speak it.
That prompted swift criticism from federal and provincial politicians and several Quebec commentators.
Many pointed out that Air Canada is subject to the Official Languages Act and must therefore serve customers in English and French, depending on the customer’s preference.
Montreal’s Chamber of Commerce had invited Rousseau to speak about Air Canada’s recovery after the pandemic. It was his first major speech since he was appointed CEO of the company, which used to be a Crown corporation, in February. He had held various roles in the company’s executive suite since 2007.
After the speech, Rousseau was asked in French by a journalist for Quebec TV news channel LCN how he’s managed to live in Montreal for so long despite speaking little French.
Rousseau paused and said: “Can you redo that in English? Because I want to make sure I understand your question before I respond to it.”
The journalist, Pierre-Olivier Zappa, said he’d rather Rousseau’s press attaché translate the question to him. The attaché replied that Rousseau had addressed it in his speech.
Eventually, Zappa asked the question in English, saying, “How can you live in Montreal without speaking French? Is it easy?”
Rousseau paused again.
“I’ve been able to live in Montreal without speaking French, and I think that’s a testament to the city of Montreal,” Rousseau said.
He was also asked why he had not learned French, responding: “If you look at my work schedule, you’d understand why.”
Politicians condemn Rousseau, Air Canada
Michel Leblanc, the president of the Chamber of Commerce, said he was disappointed that Rousseau’s speech contained very little French, “and that the CEO of Air Canada did not publicly declare that his intention was to learn French.”
Raymond Théberge, Canada’s Commissioner of Official Languages, said he hopes Rousseau will make a commitment to do so.
“Like any CEO of a company subject to the Official Languages Act, [Rousseau] should be able to communicate in the official languages,” Théberge said in an interview with Radio-Canada.
Quebec Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette — who is responsible for Bill 96, the province’s controversial and sweeping proposed overhaul of its French-language law — was quick to share his condemnation on Twitter.
“The big boss of Air Canada expresses everything we rejected decades ago: contempt for our language and our culture at home in Quebec,” Jolin-Barrette wrote in French.
“These words are unworthy of the role he occupies.”
Le grand patron d’Air Canada exprime tout ce que nous avons rejeté il y a des décennies: le mépris pour notre langue et notre culture chez nous au Québec. Ces propos sont indignes des fonctions qu’il occupe. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/polqc?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#polqc</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/assnat?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#assnat</a> <a href=”https://t.co/3V1xV7eOkU”>https://t.co/3V1xV7eOkU</a>
The federal Minister of Official Languages Ginette Petitpas Taylor also criticized Rousseau, stating on Twitter that, “Air Canada offers an important service to Canadians. It must do so in both official languages — and its leaders must be an example.”
Quebec Liberal Party Leader Dominique Anglade also reacted, calling Rousseau’s comments “appalling and disrespectful” and stating that “Air Canada frankly does not understand the impact of its decisions,” to appoint a CEO who does not speak adequate French.
The Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada, an organization representing Canadian francophone and Acadian communities, has asked Rousseau to apologize.
“He must apologize for his insensitive attitude and his lack of respect for francophones,” said the federation’s president, Liane Roy.
“If the Commissioner of Official Languages had the power to issue orders and impose penalties … maybe it would be taken more seriously,” Roy added.
U.S. to revoke terrorist designation for Colombia’s FARC, add breakaway groups
The United States will revoke its designation of the Colombian group the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia as a foreign terrorist organization on Tuesday while designating two breakaway groups as such, a senior State Department official said on Friday.
A review of the terrorist listing – required every five years under U.S. law – found that the leftist organization known by the Spanish acronym FARC should no longer be listed, The official said.
But the two dissident groups that have formed out of FARC, La Segunda Marquetalia and FARC-EP, or People’s Army, would be designated as foreign terrorist organizations, the official said.
“It’s a realignment to address these current threats,” the official said. “The FARC that existed five years ago no longer exists.”
Founded in 1964, FARC was responsible for summary executions and kidnappings of thousands of people, including Americans.
On Tuesday, Reuters reported that the United States was preparing to remove FARC from the list five years after the group signed a peace agreement with Bogota.
The State Department notified the U.S. Congress on Tuesday of its planned delisting of FARC. The Colombian government was formally notified on Wednesday.
The government of Colombia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The decision will allow U.S. government agencies like the U.S. Agency for International Development to work on peace implementation in parts of Colombia where demobilized FARC soldiers are located, the official said.
“This is a priority for the Colombian government in the implementation of the peace agreement,” the official said.
(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Simon Lewis in Washington; Additional reporting by Oliver Griffin in Bogota; Editing by Mark Porter and Leslie Adler)
Tunisian police say they shot, wounded extremist trying to attack them
Tunisian police on Friday shot and wounded an extremist who sought to attack them with a knife and cleaver in the capital, authorities said.
The 31-year-old man, whose identity was not disclosed, shouted, “God is great. You are infidels,” as he ran toward police officers near the interior ministry, the ministry said in a statement.
Witnesses and local media said police shot the man in the leg and arrested him. The man, who was previously labelled an extremist by the government, was taken to hospital and is being investigated by an anti-terrorism unit, officials said.
Tunisian security forces have thwarted most militant plots in recent years and they have become more efficient at responding to those attacks that do occur, Western diplomats say.
The last major attacks in Tunisia took place in 2015 when militants killed scores of people in two separate assaults at a museum in Tunis and a beach resort in Sousse.
(Reporting by Tarek Amara; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Frances Kerry and Cynthia Osterman)
At least 19 killed in bus crash in central Mexico
At least 19 people were killed and 20 more injured on Friday when a passenger bus traveling on a highway in central Mexico crashed into a house, authorities said.
The brakes on the bus, which was heading to a local religious shrine in the state of Mexico, failed, according to local media reports. State authorities did not disclose the possible causes of the accident.
Assistant state interior secretary Ricardo de la Cruz Musalem said that the injured had been transferred to hospitals, including some by air.
The state Red Cross said 10 ambulances had rushed to the area.
(Reporting by Sharay Angulo; writing by Laura Gottesdiener)
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