Dozens of Canadian airline passengers have been fined or warning letters by Transport Canada in recent months for refusing to wear a mask on board a flight, with more incidents involving Alberta airports than any other province.
A review of Transport Canada data by CBC News reveals that WestJet passengers were the hardest hit – with 50 out of 72 incidents, or nearly 70 percent, involving passengers on the Calgary-based airline.
WestJet passengers have received eight of the nine fines, known as administrative monetary penalties, imposed since June. The ninth fine was for a passenger who flew from Vancouver to Whitehorse on Air North in August.
Transport Canada issued 12 warning letters for passengers on Air Canada flights, two for Jazz passengers and two for people on Air Transat flights, while Air North, Calm Air, Flair, KLM and Swoop each had one passenger who received a warning letter.
Although Transport Canada provided information in September on the values of the first two fines applied – one in June of $ 1,000 and one in July of the same amount – it would provide only variations to the values of most fines.
Overall, two people were fined between $ 100 and $ 500, five received fines ranging from $ 501 to $ 1,000, one passenger received a fine ranging from $ 1,001 to $ 1,500 and another was hit with a $ 1,501 fine. $ 2,000.
Another 63 passengers received warning letters. Although the warning letters do not directly lead to fines, Transport Canada spokesman Sau Sau Liu said they could result in higher fines for a second offense.
“Based on Transport Canada’s gradual approach to enforcement action, when guaranteed by the results of an investigation where mitigating factors are taken into account, a first offense may result in a warning letter,” she said.
“The letter serves as a reminder of the consequences that the offender may face if the offense is committed again in the future. If a second or subsequent violation occurs for the same offense / violation, the Transport Canada process would trigger a higher level of coercive action. , which can result in a penalty of up to $ 5,000. “
But if there is evidence of “aggravating factors, like blatant and repeated refusals to obey,” combined with things like disrespectful or abusive language, physical or verbal threats, a first offense can result in a fine and even criminal charges, said Liu. .
WestJet has ‘zero tolerance’ mask policy
Although Alberta has 11.5% of Canada’s population, 36.8% of incidents occurred on flights to or from an Alberta airport. Calgary Airport – which is a hub for WestJet and the fourth largest in Canada – was involved in 37 incidents, while Edmonton Airport was involved in 14.
In Ontario, which has 38.2 percent of the country’s residents, incidents on flights to or from provincial airports accounted for 23.6 percent of the total. According to the data, Toronto Pearson International Airport, which has more traffic than any other Canadian airport, was the starting or ending point in 30 incidents.
British Columbia was involved in 19.4 percent of the incidents. While 18 incidents involved round-trip flights to Vancouver International Airport, there were also incidents involving flights that visited Kelowna (4), Kamloops (1), Abbotsford (3), Comox (1) and Terrace (1).
Only five incidents involved passengers flying to Canada from international airports – two from London Gatwick Airport, two from Paris and one from Israel.
WestJet spokesman Morgan Bell said the airline adopted a zero-tolerance policy for wearing masks in September.
“Our approach is zero tolerance, as Canadian travelers and all WestJet Group employees count on us to keep them safe,” she said, noting that WestJet has flown more than 28,000 flights and more than one million passengers since the pandemic started.
“Travelers should understand that if they choose not to wear a mask, they are choosing not to fly on our airlines.”
Bell said WestJet issued 34 red cards to passengers who refused to wear masks on board – preventing them from flying on WestJet, WestJet Encore and Swoop for a year. Another 121 passengers received yellow warning cards.
Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said the airline fulfilled reporting obligations and worked with Transport Canada during the investigations.
Air Canada was one of the first airlines to demand facial coverage and recently enforced its policy to improve the safety of passengers and crew members, he said.
“For customers eligible for facial coverage exemption, as of December 15, 2020, they will also need to submit a negative COVID-19 test done within 72 hours of departure, at the airport check-in and / or before boarding the flight, “he wrote by email.
“They may need another negative COVID-19 test for the return trip if the departure of the return trip exceeds 72 hours from the time the initial test was performed.”
Wesley Lesosky, president of the Air Canada component of the Canadian Civil Servants Union, said he heard from members almost every day about cases where a passenger did not want to wear a mask.
“It is a health and safety concern for everyone, but it is their work environment and they need to be safe when they are in their work environment. And if they feel insecure because someone does not have a mask, they are not required to put in that particular situation. “