A Manitoba senator and his wife walked out of a courthouse together Thursday after she pleaded guilty to causing a disturbance on an Air Canada flight.
Maygan Sensenberger, who is married to Sen. Rod Zimmer, had appeared in Saskatoon court to deal with charges stemming from a ruckus on a flight from Ottawa to Saskatoon at the end of August.
Ms. Sensenberger, 23, sat quietly next to her lawyer with her hands clasped together in her lap.
“She realizes that a lot of people on the plane were disturbed by her behaviour,” defence lawyer Leslie Sullivan told the court.
Ms. Sensenberger was given a 12-month suspended sentence with probation. She will also have to attend counselling as directed by her probation officer. The court said that could include anger management or alcohol treatment classes.
It’s not the first time Ms. Sensenberger has been in trouble. In January 2009, she pleaded guilty to impaired driving.
A charge of uttering threats against her husband was withdrawn.
People on the plane gave varying accounts of the seriousness of what happened on the flight, which was just days before the couple’s first anniversary.
One witness said Ms. Sensenberger became upset when Mr. Zimmer, 69, expressed feeling tightness in his chest. The couple began arguing over how seriously Mr. Zimmer, a throat cancer survivor, was minding his health.
Ms. Sullivan told the court that Mr. Zimmer had to be taken to hospital a few days before the flight to be treated for hornet bites.
“His lack of taking care of his health has been a constant issue between them. And after that incident, and before it, she’s been trying to get him to deal with certain health issues and his attitude is, ‘I don’t have to do that,’” Ms. Sullivan said.
She said the couple were arguing about his health in the airport before they left Ottawa and continued to fight on the plane. Ms. Sensenberger believed Mr. Zimmer had a heart attack during the flight, Ms. Sullivan said.
“As a result of that she became more distraught, more stressed out, and of course the fact that people on the plane said there was no problem made her even more upset because she felt that no one was taking her seriously,” Ms. Sullivan said.
“She was significantly distraught. And I think that when you’re in that kind of situation – when you’re distraught, you have few drinks in your system – you say and do things that you might not do (in normal) circumstances.”
Police alleged the two were arguing before any health issues surfaced and the argument escalated as the flight got closer to Saskatoon. The Crown told court that one witness said Ms. Sensenberger could be overheard saying she would cut Mr. Zimmer’s throat.
Prosecutor Matt Miazga said Mr. Zimmer told police in a statement that the conversation was about going to the hospital for treatment of the hornet bites or “it might kill him.”
“And she was saying things like, ‘Well, if that doesn’t kill you, if the drugs don’t kill you, I’ll kill you. I’ll slit your throat. I’ll kick your ass around the corner,’” Mr. Miazga told the court.
“He referred to that as loving and endearing talk, which was his perception of the situation. Others obviously didn’t perceive it that way and because of the context of this happening on a flight, it upset people.”
Ms. Miazga said at no time was the plane in any danger.
Ms. Sensenberger was initially charged with endangering the safety of an aircraft – a more serious allegation that carries a life sentence as the maximum penalty. That charge was dropped at an earlier court appearance.
The case took off on the Internet and in the media. The couple’s large age difference and a rich Facebook personal account of their relationship fuelled an appetite for the story.
Ms. Sullivan said the “unwarranted and extreme” media attention has “caused a lot of stress” to the couple.
“I think it has been extreme and abusive,” Ms. Sullivan said outside the courthouse.