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Can the Montreal Canadiens Insist on Francophone Coach?

I did a post a few days ago referencing the bizarre situation in Montreal.  The hockey Canadiens fired a Francophone coach, replaced him with an Anglophone coach, and then apologized for hiring an Anglophone, and promised to reconsider the job at the end of the year at which time being French-speaking would be considered an important job criteria.

This really is an outrageous example of public in-your-face discrimination on the basis of ethnicity and/or place of origin, isn’t it?  Could you imagine an employer apologizing publicly for hiring an African-Canadian and promising to replace him later with a white person?

Anyhow, the story was back again this week after the Canadiens’ G.M. again apologized in a press conference for hiring an Anglophone. Unbelievable.

Since I am not well-versed in Quebec human rights law, I used the example of the Maple Leafs publicly announcing it would give preference to Anglophones in my earlier blog under Ontario law.  However, I noticed that my fellow blogger Gabriel Granatstein with Norton Rose in Montreal did his own blog entry last year asking whether the Canadiens could give preference to Francophone hockey players.  Take a look at his analysis.

So, would the Canadiens be in violation of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms if it now replaces the Anglophone coach (Cunneyworth) with a Francophone coach?

If you were Cunneyworth, would you bring that legal action?  Why or why not?


One Response to Can the Montreal Canadiens Insist on Francophone Coach?

  1. Dennis Buchanan Reply

    January 5, 2012 at 11:35 am

    Kind of looks, from Mr. Granatstein’s post, that the applicable principles are comparable to Ontario’s, including the BFOR analysis.

    Is it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of language? On a first principles approach, I’d have to go with ‘probably’. In Ontario, at least, language can probably be seen as a proxy for place of origin, at least to the extent that people are less likely to speak languages not common in their place of origin.

    Of course, there has to be a widespread defence to language discrimination: Having a common language is extremely important in most workplaces, for interacting with supervisors, peers, subordinates, and/or members of the public. Without such a defence, every construction site becomes the Tower of Babel. That’s probably going to be the BFOR analysis.

    (On a less legal and more moral approach, particularly given that language is simply a proxy which can be learned, I think that as a society we’re far more comfortable forcing employees to conform to linguistic requirements, by contrast to discrimination which directly attacks more immutable traits.)

    Can one argue, then, that having a coach speaking a common language with most of the players is a BFOR? I think that’s actually a very strong argument, in most contexts. Direct communication between coach and players is of such importance to a team that I suspect a Court or Tribunal would find that a BFOR can be established at least for the coach.

    But can the Habs argue that in this context? I don’t know what the linguistic make-up of the team is at the moment, but whatever it is, they made a hiring decision that shows that they believe that an anglophone coach is able to do the job, and their reconsideration of that decision is not based on performance issues but rather fan preference. To my mind, fan preference is not likely to generate a strong BFOR defence.

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