Air Canada CEO faces backlash for not speaking French; gives official apology

Vytautas Kielaitis /

Air Canada CEO Michael Rousseau has apologized for not being able to speak or understand the French language after finding himself in hot water after a media event in Montreal.

Rousseau, who took the role as CEO of Air Canada (ADH2) in February 2021, gave his first official speech on November 3, 2021 at the Palais des congrès in Montreal.

The 26-minute speech was delivered in English, and he spoke French for about 20 seconds.

After the speech, Rousseau was interviewed by the press.  A journalist for Quebec TV news channel LCN asked him in French how he had been able to live in Montreal, where Air Canada (ADH2) is based, for 14 years, while speaking very little French.

Rousseau replied in English, “Can you redo that in English? Because I want to make sure I understand your question before I respond to it.”

When the question was repeated, Rousseau responded by saying, “I’ve been able to live in Montreal without speaking French, and I think that’s a testament to the city of Montreal.”

When asked why he hadn’t learned the language, Rousseau replied that his current priority is to “get Air Canada (ADH2) back to where it was.”

Rousseau also said that he would like to learn French but “If you look at my work schedule, you’d understand why.”  The full exchange can be seen here:

Shortly after the interaction, Rousseau faced widespread criticism from public officials, including Canada’s Minister of Official Languages:

Others, like the New Democratic Party (NDP) of Canada, called for the resignation of Rousseau as CEO of Air Canada (ADH2), with NDP deputy leader Alexandre Boulerice saying that, “Mr. Rousseau is spitting in the face of Quebecers and all members of French-speaking communities across the country.”

Less than 20 hours after the media event, Rousseau made an official statement , apologizing for his remarks and committing to improve his French.

“I apologize to those who were offended by my remarks. I pledge today to improve my French, an official language of Canada and the common language of Québec, while tackling the serious commercial challenges facing Air Canada (ADH2) as we move from surviving the pandemic to rebuilding to normalcy,” Rousseau said in the statement, which was made in both English and French.

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