The federal government is continuing to investigate the belligerent behaviour of passengers aboard a chartered Sunwing flight from Montreal to Mexico, as the government confirms that 27 of the 130 passengers have returned to Canada.
Each one was stopped and “interrogated” at the border, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said in a news conference Friday. “They were then all tested. They were checked with regards whether they had obeyed and followed all of the health regulations that they were supposed to follow throughout their trip, in particular regarding their proof of vaccination, the quality, the integrity of their PCR test, their quarantine plan were also inspected.”
Mr. Duclos said La Sûreté du Québec had proactively contacted the Public Health Agency of Canada to seek information on those travellers.
“The contravention files that were issued for some of these travellers were sent to the government of Quebec through their legal authority and team,” he said. “And that’s in addition to the ongoing investigation and possible prosecution that Transport Canada and other agencies will continue to pursue.”
A Transport Canada spokesperson said that while the department could not speak about individual cases, “we can confirm that all alleged cases of non-compliance identified as part of this occurrence will be thoroughly examined by our enforcement officers. The existing legislation includes a number of penalties should cases of non-compliance be identified, and Transport Canada will not hesitate to take appropriate and proportional enforcement action in light of the facts uncovered.”
Under the Aeronautics Act, anyone “acting in an unruly or dangerous behaviour onboard an aircraft could be liable for a fine of up to $100,000 and/or imprisonment for a term of up to five years.” And under Ottawa’s separate Interim Order Respecting Certain Requirements for Civil Aviation Due to COVID-19, passengers could be fined up to $5,000 each, and airlines or corporations could face fines of up to $25,000.
Videos of the Dec. 30 flight circulated on social media this week, showing unmasked passengers in close proximity, dancing on seats and crowding the aisles. A bottle of vodka is passed around at one point, and one woman is shown blowing e-cigarette smoke at the camera.
The footage sparked swift condemnation, given that the federal government has urged even the most well behaved of Canadians to avoid non-essential travel outside the country, as COVID-19 cases continue to skyrocket as a result of the Omicron variant. Even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the rowdy passengers “idiots.”
The group’s return flight to Montreal was cancelled by Sunwing.
Melanie Fillip, a spokeswoman for the Toronto-based airline, said the decision “was based on the group’s refusal to accept all terms and our security team’s assessment that non-compliance would be likely based on their previous disruptive onboard behaviour.”
Canadian aviation regulators allow airlines to refuse boarding to anyone whose “actions or statements” signal they could be a risk to the safety of the aircraft and anyone on it.
“Even though incidents where passengers exhibit unruly or disruptive behaviour often begin once on board the aircraft or following takeoff, early signs of a possible problem may arise before boarding and should, whenever possible, be identified at that time,” a 2016 Transport Canada advisory to the industry said.
While some of the travellers have since made it back from Mexico, according to local media reports in Montreal, others have expressed frustration with their difficulty getting home.
One passenger, Rebecca St-Pierre, from Trois-Rivières, Que., told the Canadian Press this week she is in isolation in Tulum, south of Cancun, after testing positive for COVID-19 Wednesday.
“The organizer just left everybody. I don’t know who’s still here,” she said. “All the flights have been cancelled.”
The 19-year-old student, who said she won the free trip in an Instagram contest, estimated about 30 others on the flight have tested positive.
“I was expecting a relaxing week, where I was going to be careful,” she said. “But this turns out to be an expensive trip for something that was supposed to be free.”
Another woman, a piloting student identified by Le Journal de Montreal as one of the passengers shown vaping on the plane, posted a photo to Instagram, polling her followers as to whether or not she should return to Montreal, with the choice oui ou non.
James Awad, who claims to have chartered the flight as part of a travel event through his company, 111 Private Club, did not respond to an interview request from The Globe and Mail.
“At this time, the 111 private club is working tirelessly to get everyone back home safely as quickly as we can,” he wrote in a statement posted to social media. “The 111 private club is a dream and a vision that I poured my heart and soul into creating. This was my first travel event. I have significantly learned, and I am still learning from this experience. Learning from them is what makes the difference.”
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