Two Toronto women who previously pleaded guilty to mischief and smoking on an aircraft, following a 2014 incident which resulted in two CF-18 fighter jets escorting a Cuba-bound aircraft back to Pearson Airport, were sentenced today. The women avoided a major criminal charge of endangering the safety of an aircraft but must pay a fine of $500, as well as restitution of $7,500 to Sunwing, the operator of the flight in question.
Endangering the Safety of an Aircraft and Other Criminal Charges
According to Justice Patrice Band’s written decision, the two women drank a significant amount of duty-free alcohol while on the flight, and then lit a cigarette in the airplane washroom, which triggered the aircraft’s on-board smoke detector. When the flight crew ordered the women back to their seats, they continued to be disruptive. A passenger informed the flight crew that he overheard one of the women utter a bomb threat, which the other woman responded to affirmatively.
While the flight’s Captain did not think the threat was credible, he decided to turn the plane around and return to Pearson airport as he was concerned that the women’s behaviour would escalate.
Canada’s NORAD sector in Winnipeg was alerted to the problems aboard the aircraft and scrambled two CF-18 fighter jets from the Royal Canadian Air Force base in Bagotville, Quebec. NORAD spokesperson, U.S Army Capt. Ruth Castro stated:
Just out of an abundance of caution, the NORAD jets were launched and monitored the situation from the air.
The women were charged with endangering the safety of an aircraft, mischief over $5,000, mischief endangering life, and uttering threats (under the Criminal Code), as well as smoking on an aircraft (under the Canadian Aviation Regulations).
Sunwing stated that the incident cost them $42,500.
Justice Band ordered the women to pay a fine of $500, as well as $7,500 in restitution to Sunwing. The Judge stated that a permanent criminal record would be “overkill”.
Both women were granted conditional discharges, and will be on probation for 12 months. Both must keep the peace, be on good behaviour, and regularly be in touch with their probation officer. They will also need to complete counselling for alcohol abuse, as well as 100 hours of community service (in addition to the 100 hours already completed by both)
During sentencing, Justice Band noted that he had taken into account the fact that no one was “directly endangered” as a result of the women’s behaviour, however, in a post 9/11 world, it was understandable that other passengers would have been scared.
Ultimately, Justice Band hopes that the sentence will “deter anyone else from behaving the same way on a flight”.
In addition to the fines, probation, and conditions ordered by Justice Band, both women have been placed on Sunwing’s no-fly list, which could result in travel complications. The publicity of this incident and the aftermath could also impact their employability in their chosen field of nursing.
Other Serious Consequences that Could Have Resulted from the Behaviour
The potential consequences for these two women could have been much worst than what the final outcome actually is.
The most serious of the charges the women faced, endangering the safety of an aircraft, is an indictable offence under the Criminal Code and carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
One of the women is a German citizen who was completing her nursing education in Canada, and was hoping to eventually become a permanent resident. Had the sentencing resulted in criminal charges, there would have been a risk that she would have been deported.
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