Dozens of Canadian airlines have been slapped with fines or warning letters by Transport Canada for refusing to wear a mask on a plane in recent months, with more incidents involving Alberta airports than any other state.
In a review of CBC News’ Transport Canada data, WestJet passengers have been hard hit – 50 or nearly 70 per cent of the 72 incidents involving passengers on a coal-based airline.
Eight of the nine fines, known as administrative cash fines, have been imposed on WestJet passengers since June. Passengers who flew from Vancouver to Whitehorse Whitehorse in August were fined a ninth fine.
Transport Canada has received 12 warning letters for passengers on Air Canada flights, two for Jazz passengers and two for those on Air Transat flights, and one for each passenger on Air North, Quiet Air, Player, KLM and Sweep.
Transport Canada provided information on the first two fines imposed in September – one for $ 1,000 in June and the same for July – which will only provide limits for most fines.
Overall, two were fined between $ 100 and $ 500, five were fined between $ 1,501 and $ 1,000, one passenger was fined between $ 1,001 and $ 1,500, and another was fined between $ 1,501 and $ 2,000.
A further 63 passengers received warning letters. Although warning letters do not directly lead to fines, Transport Canada spokesman Zhou Chao Liu said higher fines could be imposed for the second offense.
“Based on the graduated approach to traffic enforcement action in Transport Canada, the first offense may result in a warning letter when the mitigation factors are guaranteed by the consideration of the investigation,” he said.
“This letter serves as a reminder of the consequences that the offender may face if the offense is to be repeated in the future. If a second or subsequent breach of the same offense / offense occurs, Transport Canada’s process may trigger an enforcement action that could result in a fine of up to $ 5,000.”
But if there is evidence of “bad factors such as blatant and repeated refusal to comply” along with insulting or misleading language, physical or verbal threats, the first offense can lead to fines and criminal charges, Liu said.
WestJet has a ‘Zero-Tolerance’ mask policy
Alberta makes up 11.5 percent of Canada’s population, and 36.8 percent of the incidents occurred on or off planes bound for Alberta airport. Calgary’s airport – Westjet’s center and Canada’s fourth largest – was involved in 37 incidents, while Edmonton’s airport was involved in 14 incidents.
In Ontario, which has 38.2 percent of the country’s population, the incidence of flights to or from the airport in the province is 23.6 percent of the total. According to data, Pearson International Airport in Toronto has more traffic than any other Canadian airport, with more than 30 incidents of departure or arrival.
British Columbia was involved in 19.4 percent of the incidents. There were 18 incidents on flights to or from Vancouver International Airport, but also to flights to Kelowna (4), Kamloops (1), Abbotsford (3), Comox (1) and Terrace (1).
There have been only five incidents of passengers flying to Canada from international airports – two from London’s Gatwick Airport, two from Paris and one from Israel.
WestJet spokesman Morgan Bell said the plane followed a zero tolerance policy on wearing a mask in September.
“Our approach is zero tolerance because Canadian passengers and all of our WestJet crew trust us to be safe,” he said, adding that WestJet has flown more than 28,000 flights and more than a million passengers since the outbreak.
“Passengers should understand that if they choose not to wear a mask, they choose not to fly our planes.”
Bell said it has issued 34 red cards to passengers, excluding flights a year on WestJet, WestJet, WestJet Encore and Swoop. A further 121 passengers received yellow warning cards.
Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said the airline has complied with its reporting obligations and worked with Transport Canada during its investigations.
Air Canada is also one of the first airlines to require face masks and has recently strengthened its policy to improve the safety of passengers and staff, he said.
“As of December 15, 2020, customers eligible for the face mask exemption must also be given a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of departure before airport check-in and / or boarding. Flight,” he wrote in an email.
“Departure of their return journey beyond 72 hours from the time the initial test was taken may require another negative COVID-19 test for their return journey.”
Wesley Lesowski, president of the Air Canada component of the Canadian Public Service Union, said he hears from his members almost every day about cases where a passenger does not want to wear a mask.
“It’s everyone’s health and safety concerns, but it’s their work environment, they need to be safe when they’m in the work environment. And if someone feels unsafe because they do not have a mask, they do not need to put themselves in that particular situation.”