According to those who have advocated for its creation, a new proposed air passenger bill of rights (Bill C-49) has fallen far below expectations.
As far as both the Ontario Civil Liberties Association (OCLA) and the air passenger rights group headed by industry watchdog Gabor Lukacs are concerned, the bill before the Senate has provisions which may actually send passenger rights backward rather than forward.
It was only after a pair of Air Transat flights left hundreds stranded on stuffy planes for hours in Ottawa on July 31, 2017, that the government seemed to be prepared to leap into action.
That leap seems to have become a slow walk, even after Transport Minister Marc Garneau promised speedy action in the weeks following the negative publicity surrounding the July incident.
Bill C-49 has raised the ire of advocacy groups on at least two issues. According to Lukacs, provisions in the bill would roll back many of the protections Canadians currently enjoy when travelling by air, and provide no new accountability for airlines.
At issue for many Canadian travellers is the provision in the proposed legislation that would double the time passengers are allowed to be stranded on the tarmac without water or food, to three hours from the current 90 minutes.
Under current rules, airlines must compensate passengers for flight delays and cancellations caused by mechanical failures. This requirement has been removed from the bill. Lukacs had hoped the European legislation, which does compensate passengers under these situations, would help form a basis for the Canadian bill.
Lukacs has been a tireless fighter on behalf of Canadian travellers, and has single-handedly forced airlines to grant greater compensation after his presentations to the Canadian Transportation Agency.
Should Bill C-49 pass into law in its current form, his ability to advocate and appeal on behalf of travellers may be restricted.
The OCLA has taken up the cause against just that section of the bill. They say harmful provisions in Bill C-49 would, in effect, stifle public-interest advocacy and undermine access to justice in the area of air transportation.
Bill C-49 would silence the critical voice of public-interest advocates by restricting the right to bring a complaint on behalf of those adversely affected by the conduct or policy. This is contrary to the current law, which permits public-interest advocacy.
Trusting Canadians believed their voices would finally be heard. Unless changes are made, many will feel they have been hoodwinked into believing they would be offered more protection from airline blunders.
Do the voices of ordinary Canadians matter?
According to Lukacs, he has already received tens of thousands of letters on this issue. With these letters in hand, Lukacs will be testifying before the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications on March 20 to urge senators to listen to the thousands of Canadians who would like them to make amendments to the bill.
If you would like to follow my Voices of Travel podcasts, you can subscribe to them on iTunes or Google Play.
Ron is a dedicated traveller, having explored 65 countries around the world as well as all but one province in Canada (Newfoundland).