WestJet Airlines Ltd. alleges that private investigators hired by Air Canada to rifle through the garbage of a former senior executive removed "highly confidential" corporate information, including financial statements, personal expense reports and budget documents.
WestJet and Mark Hill, the former executive, will ask the courts today for an injunction blocking Air Canada from using any of the information and for the go-ahead to launch a countersuit against its rival. Judicial approval is needed because Air Canada is operating under court protection from its creditors.
Air Canada has accused Mr. Hill in a lawsuit of leading a corporate-espionage scheme to siphon flight data from an Air Canada employee website. Mr. Hill resigned from WestJet last week, the company said, because of continuing scrutiny of his actions. WestJet has countered that the information obtained from the website was neither confidential nor useful to the airline.
Both sides agree that investigators hired by Air Canada removed garbage outside Mr. Hill's home in Victoria's wealthy Oak Bay district on two occasions. When Mr. Hill became aware that someone was checking his garbage, he had a little fun with them by putting a bogus WestJet Business Plan in the trash, ripped into thick strips so it could be easily reassembled, according to court documents.
The plan, labelled TOP SECRET!!!!, said buy a "schwak" of airplanes, "take digital photos of the two morons digging thru my garbage looking for propriety WestJet information" and "send Milty a Christmas card" -- a reference to Air Canada president Robert Milton.
According to a transcript of his testimony filed in court, Mr. Hill said he created the document and put it in the garbage because "I might as well put some stuff in for them to take a look at."
WestJet and Mr. Hill allege in a joint factum filed in court that the trash contained a portion of a draft budget for 2004, showing both revenue and expenses, the company's capital budget and excerpts from the compensation committee.
Air Canada counters in submissions that the documents are fragmentary and/or illegible "and it is not clear that someone other than Hill or a WestJet representative could identify, let alone use them."