MONTREAL (Reuters) -Canada’s minister of transport on Tuesday called for an investigation into reports of maskless revelers on a recent Sunwing Airlines flight to Cancun, as the country battles soaring cases of COVID-19.
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said on Twitter he had asked regulator Transport Canada to investigate media reports of passengers snapping selfies, drinking alcohol and congregating close together on the Dec. 30 flight from Montreal.
“I am aware of the reports of unacceptable behavior on a Sunwing flight,” Alghabra said.
“Transport Canada has been in contact with the airline concerning this flight,” the regulator said in a statement late on Tuesday, adding that the passengers could be fined up to C$5,000 ($3,932.98) per offence if Transport Canada determines they were not complying with regulations.
The Toronto-headquartered leisure operator said by email that the behavior of a group of passengers on the private charter flight “was unruly and contravened several Canadian aviation regulations as well as public health regulations.”
Sunwing said it has canceled the group’s return flight to Montreal scheduled for Jan. 5 as a result of the carrier’s investigation and due to a refusal by the group to accept all terms of carriage.
Sunwing said the flight to Cancun triggered an investigation by its security department and an initial notification to Transport Canada.
“This is unacceptable behavior from passengers that puts our cabin crew at enormous risk,” said Rena Kisfalvi, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) local which represents Sunwing flight attendants. “We need the airlines and the federal government to support and protect our members against this kind of mob behavior and make sure it never happens again.”
Transport Canada also warned that providing false information when entering the country was a “serious offence” that may result in penalties, criminal charges or both.
A traveler could face fines of up to C$750,000, a jail term of six months, or both if found guilty. Travelers could be subject to up to three years in prison and up to C$1 million in fines if they are found guilty of endangering the lives of others and causing harm.
Canada’s most populous provinces have closed in-school learning until Jan. 17, with hard-hit Quebec shuttering restaurant dining rooms and enacting a curfew from 10 pm to 5 am to curb the spread of the coronavirus and rising hospitalizations.
($1 = 1.2713 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal and Anirudh Saligrama in Bengaluru; Editing by Mark Potter, Himani Sarkar and Gerry Doyle)