On November 29, 2010, Bombardier Inc. was ordered by the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal to pay over $300,000 in damages to a Muslim pilot of Pakistani origin who, although a Canadian citizen, was denied access to a training program offered at the company's training center in Montréal. Of the total damages, $50,000 was awarded as punitive damages, while the remainder was for moral damages and lost income relating to missed employment opportunities.

Background

Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, the United States introduced restrictions on training foreign pilots under an American licence. In 2004, the pilot in this case was denied the clearance required by American authorities to register for a pilot training course under such a licence. The decision was made by the United States Transport Safety Administration (TSA) in accordance with Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 1552. Notably, the pilot had received the required clearance in the past.

As a result of the TSA's decision, the pilot was denied training under his American license. The pilot then requested training from Bombardier under his Canadian license. This request was denied as well, as the company representative who made the decision testified that he considered the pilot a potential terrorist. The company did not, however, verify its belief with Canadian authorities responsible for national security, nor did it pursue the matter with American authorities.

In 2008, the American authorities lifted the prohibition against training the pilot under his American license and, as a result, Bombardier agreed to train him. The company never learned of the reasons for the prohibition, nor was it informed as to why the prohibitions had been lifted.

Bombardier found guilty of discrimination

The Tribunal ultimately found that Bombardier had been guilty of discrimination against the pilot. In making its decision, the Tribunal accepted expert evidence presented by the Human Rights Commission to the effect that the security measures adopted by American authorities had a disproportionate impact on individuals from Muslim countries such as Pakistan. As such, the Tribunal found that this had been a case of discrimination based on national or ethnic origin.

The Tribunal rejected the arguments Bombardier put forward to justify its actions, namely that the company had wanted to protect both Canada's national security and the company's American training certificate, in effect its economic interests. The Tribunal, however, criticized the company for not conducting its own analysis of the potential risk to Canada's security and for having instead relied entirely on the decision of American authorities. The Tribunal asserted that no rational link existed between the protection of Canada and the refusal to train the pilot.

The Tribunal also rejected Bombardier's argument that it was obliged to abide by the decisions of American authorities in order to avoid having its American training certificate revoked. Such an argument assumes that American laws apply to the decision of the company to train a pilot under a Canadian license, which the Tribunal found not to be the case. The Tribunal noted, moreover, that Bombardier had not consulted its lawyers on the matter.

As such, the Tribunal found Bombardier guilty of discrimination, as the company's decisions had amounted to the application in Canada of foreign security rules considered to be discriminatory under Quebec law.