Airlines won't be allowed to bump passengers from a flight against their will under a new passenger bill of rights introduced Tuesday by Transportation Minister Marc Garneau.
That change is part of a package of amendments to the Canada Transportation Act which also introduces new foreign ownership limits for airlines, requires railways to install voice and video recorders in locomotives and improves transparency and efficiency in the freight rail industry.
Garneau promised the bill of rights last month in the wake of widespread alarm after a United Airlines passenger was seriously injured when he was dragged from a plane in Chicago.
The minister earlier wrote to all airlines operating in Canada to say such an incident is not to happen here, but he says the new legislation spells it out clearly: people who are legitimate passengers can't be denied boarding or removed from the plane against their will.
"We have all heard recent news reports of shoddy treatment of air passengers," Garneau said at a news conference. "Such incidents will not be tolerated in Canada. When Canadians buy an airline ticket, they expect the airline to keep its part of the deal."
He said there will be minimum levels of compensation for people who voluntarily agree to be bumped from a flight and if airlines can't get a volunteer, they will have to decide if they want to up the ante to persuade someone to get off.
There will also have to be compensation for lost or damaged bags. Airlines will have to spell out what they will do for passengers who are delayed due to situations within an airline's control, as well as how they will ensure passengers complete their travel if they are delayed due to weather.
The bill also will prevent airlines from charging parents to sit next to their children if the kids are under the age of 14, and will have to create new standards for transporting musical instruments.
The specifics of what will be compensated and with how much won't be determined until regulations are introduced after the legislation is passed. Those will be worked out by the Canadian Transportation Agency.
Garneau said he is considering what further penalties would apply if airlines do not live up to the new requirements, but there are none contained in the legislation.
He wants the new legislation in place in 2018.
There are already some requirements in place for airlines to compensate passengers who are bumped or whose luggage gets lost but each airline can set its own rules and compensation packages.
"There are rules at the moment but they're rather opaque to the average flyer," said Garneau.
Gabor Lukacs, an air passenger rights advocate, says the Canadian Transportation Agency is too cosy with the airlines it is supposed to be policing, and doesn't think this bill will change anything.
He said the agency already fails to do anything about a majority of complaints. He says statistics from the agency show it received more than 500 complaints a year from airline passengers over the last three years, but the agency's enforcement actions dropped in that time.
In 2013-14 the agency acted in 230 cases, but in 2015-16 it was only 64.
"I am profoundly concerned that the same biased body which in the past three, four years completely failed to enforce our rights is going to be in charge of developing regulations and then enforcing them," he said in an interview. "This makes absolutely no sense and this is nothing short of entrusting the fox with guarding the hen house."
Lukacs said passengers are better off taking complaints to small claims court.
Garneau said new support will be provided to help the agency handle the increased workload.
The legislation also increases the cap on foreign ownership of airlines to 49 per cent from 25 per cent, and introduces new allowances for airlines to enter into joint ventures with international carriers to do things such as share marketing and scheduling.
In a written statement Air Canada welcomed the change to allow it to seek out new investors. The airline also said it is looking forward to participating in consultations to create the new regulations for the passenger bill of rights.