Guest smoking, not wearing mask, forces WestJet flight to land in Winnipeg on weekend
WINNIPEG -- The James Richardson International Airport welcomed an unexpected flight this past weekend.
The RCMP said officers were called Sunday afternoon around 2:30 when a WestJet flight travelling from Vancouver to Toronto was forced to land in Winnipeg due to an “unruly” passenger.
"They were advised this male had lit up a cigarette on board and was also not listening to any of the directions from the flight crew which included to don his personal safety mask as well,” said Cpl. Julie Courchaine of the Manitoba RCMP.
Police say a 60-year-old man from Surrey B.C., Balvir Singh, was arrested and taken into custody. He’s been charged with several offences — including failing to comply with the flight crew’s instructions to wear a face mask.
According to Transport Canada, it’s the first time someone has been charged with that offence which carries a maximum fine of $5,000.
The rule falls under an interim order put in place by Transport Canada because of COVID-19.
A directive issued April 20 by Transport Canada requires all passengers to wear a non-medical face mask or covering during a flight.
“In support of the directive, it is mandatory for guests to wear protective face coverings throughout their travel journey, including at the airport and while in flight,” reads a portion of the WestJet statement. “In addition and per the directive, travellers are required to show that they have a suitable face-covering prior to boarding a WestJet flight.”
Inside the airport, signs at security checkpoints highlight the face mask rules. Traveller Waffa Assaf came prepared with masks for her flight and has no problem with wearing one.
“It’s good to wear it and prevent yourself and others from getting sick," she said.
The man in the WestJet incident has also been charged with public mischief over $5,000 and two charges under Canadian Aviation Security regulations for smoking on board and failing to comply with the flight crew’s instructions.
None of the charges have been tested in court.
His lawyer Matt Gould says there was a language barrier.
“In terms of what an individual was told or how that was interpreted and what was made from that, it’s difficult to come to any useful conclusion at this time," he said. "Certainly everyone’s innocent until proven guilty.”
While the allegations also involve smoking on a plane, Gould says the incident highlights how serious the consequences can be if someone refuses to wear a mask – starting with steep fines and harsher penalties if a plane is forced to make an unplanned stop.
"If the issue with respect to wearing a face mask exacerbates the situation or grows into something that causes a real problem on a flight, that can result in criminal charges," he said.
WestJet says it apologized to other passengers for the delay before refueling and departing for Toronto.