Calgary police say they do not know how a 49-year-old man died after an altercation with two border officers aboard a plane as it was preparing to take off from the Calgary airport earlier this week.
Staff Sergeant Colin Chisholm said the man, who was being deported from Canada, died Tuesday after going into medical distress while on a KLM Royal Dutch Airlines flight bound for Amsterdam. Police are not identifying the man or his nationality until his family members are notified.
“We are in the process of talking to the authorities in the deceased’s home country to arrange next of kin to be notified,” said Staff Sergeant Chisholm, who is with the homicide unit. “We do not have a definitive time frame of when that will be done.”
Police are urging any witnesses to contact them, a process that has been complicated by the fact that the plane took off after the man was removed from it and the passengers are now scattered around the globe.
“The airplane turned around and left. Obviously, some of the witnesses were still on the flight so we didn’t have a first-hand opportunity to interview those witnesses right away. That creates a challenge for us," Staff Sergeant Chisholm said.
He said the police are in contact with authorities in the Netherlands, who are helping them co-ordinate interviews with witnesses.
Staff Sergeant Chisholm said Calgary police responded to a call around 3 p.m. on Tuesday when the plane returned to the gate prior to take off. Police found the man in medical distress and transported him to hospital, where he was pronounced dead around 4:30 p.m.
Police said an autopsy was completed Wednesday, but the cause of the man’s death has not been determined. Staff Sergeant Chisholm said it could be six months before a final autopsy is complete.
The two CBSA officers were also taken to hospital and treated for minor injuries after the altercation with the man. Staff Sergeant Chisholm did not describe the nature of their injuries, but said both officers have since been released from hospital. He said no charges are anticipated at this time.
Staff Sergeant Chisholm said the man who died had been in Calgary for years and was not known to police.
Speaking to reporters in Winnipeg on Wednesday, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said the circumstances surrounding the man’s deportation were "normal removal from the country when a person has been determined to be inadmissible.” He said he could not speak to the details about the incident, as it is being investigated.
“Until they determine the facts of exactly what happened and why, no further comment can be made other than to say any loss of life is a great tragedy and any serious incident of this kind must be treated with the gravity and care that it deserves,” Mr. Goodale said. “I have every confidence that the Calgary Police Service will get to the bottom of the situation and determine factually what happened.”
Mr. Goodale said CBSA will also be conducting its own internal examination, as it does whenever there is a serious incident involving its officers.