Unions Launch Campaign Calling on Canadian Government to Secure Immediate Return of Wrongfully Imprisoned Canadians in the Dominican Republic

TORONTO, May 16, 2022 /CNW/ – The Air Line Pilots Association International (ALPA), Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), and Unifor are launching a public campaign calling on the Government of Canada to secure the safe return of five Canadians who have been arbitrarily imprisoned in the Dominican Republic after reporting a crime they were not involved in.

Five crew members of Pivot Airlines being held in Dominican Republic. (CNW Group/Unifor)
Five crew members of Pivot Airlines being held in Dominican Republic. (CNW Group/Unifor)

For more than 40 days, a Canadian aircrew – including two CUPE members, one ALPA member, and one Unifor member – have been arbitrarily detained, threatened, and prosecuted after discovering and reporting 200kg of narcotics to the police.

“It is entirely unacceptable that our members have been thrown in jail for doing their jobs, and dutifully reporting a crime,” said Capt. Tim Perry, President of ALPA Canada. “We are urging the Canadian government to take serious action and help bring our crew home.”

Together, the three unions represent more than 90,000 airline workers. Collectively, the unions are cautioning all travellers and employees of the risks of travel to the Dominican Republic.

“The Canadian government needs to do all in its power to bring the Pivot Airlines crew safely back home,” said Scott Doherty, the Executive Assistant to Unifor’s National President. “Our member is a part-time worker, who had the misfortune of becoming entangled in a dangerous situation, after finding and reporting illegal drugs onboard. Our union joins his family and friends in their concern for his safety. We need the federal government to intervene immediately.”

Even though there is no evidence tying them to a crime, the Dominican Republic prosecutor is currently seeking to hold the five Canadians in jail for upwards of twelve months.

“We are gravely concerned about our members and the entire crew, who have been held captive under tremendously challenging conditions,” said Wesley Lesosky, President of CUPE’s airline division. “The fact is Canadian lives are at risk in the Dominican Republic. We need our Government to act.”

ALPA, CUPE, and Unifor are inviting members to join the call by writing to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and urging her to call for the crew’s safe and immediate release.

Join the campaign:

About Unifor

Unifor is Canada’s largest union in the private sector, representing 315,000 workers in every major area of the economy. The union advocates for all working people and their rights, fights for equality and social justice in Canada and abroad, and strives to create progressive change for a better future.

About CUPE

The Canadian Union of Public Employees is Canada’s largest union, with 700,000 members across the country, including 15,000 members in the airline sector.

About ALPA

ALPA represents and advocates for more than 62,000 pilots at 38 U.S. and Canadian airlines, making it the world’s largest airline pilot union. ALPA provides three critical services to its members: airline safety, security, and pilot assistance; representation; and advocacy. Through unbiased, fact-based evaluation of airline safety and security issues, ALPA works to ensure that the airline industry remains safe. ALPA represents pilots’ views to decision-makers, including Parliament and federal agencies, and ALPA pilot groups have negotiated hundreds of contracts with airlines.

CUPE Airline Division Deeply Concerned About Members Being Held in Dominican Republic

April 27, 2022 04:11 PM Eastern Daylight Time

VANCOUVER, British Columbia–(BUSINESS WIRE)–The Airline Division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) is deeply concerned about the safety and well-being of two of our members – flight attendants at Pivot Airlines – who are being held in the Dominican Republic, along with two pilots and a mechanic.

“The continued threats and prosecution of the Pivot Airlines crew raises serious concerns for all Canadian travelers and employees travelling to and working in the Dominican Republic.”

The entire crew is currently being held after discovering 200 kg of suspected contraband inside their plane and immediately reporting it to Dominican authorities and the RCMP on April 5. In doing so, the crew prevented a possible onboard fire, and a probable air disaster resulting from the added weight and unsafe location of the contraband on the plane.

The crew was released after spending 10 days in detention but are being barred from leaving the country, and have been assigned a security detail and are being regularly relocated due to threats to their safety and well-being.

“Our members followed the rules and did everything by the book, and yet this still happened, which is gravely concerning,” said Airline Division President Wesley Lesosky. “The continued threats and prosecution of the Pivot Airlines crew raises serious concerns for all Canadian travelers and employees travelling to and working in the Dominican Republic.”

Despite immediately following all relevant local and international laws and regulations, Dominican authorities have indicated the crew could be held in the country for up to 12 months as the investigation runs its course.

“This is completely unacceptable,” said Lesosky. “We remain extremely concerned for the safety and security of our members, and we will continue working with Pivot, as we have since day one, in our fight to bring our members home.”

CUPE National President Mark Hancock recently signed a letter along with Pivot, Unifor and ALPA calling on the federal government to do everything in its power to bring our members and the entire flight crew back to Canada. You can read the letter here.

CUPE is Canada’s largest union with 700,000 members nationwide, including 15,000 members who work in the airline sector.

Crew of Ontario airline detained, interrogated in Dominican Republic after massive drug seizure

From CTV News 🔗 link to source story

A Pivot Airlines plane can be seen. (Pivot Airlines/Facebook)A Pivot Airlines plane can be seen. (Pivot Airlines/Facebook)

Abby Neufeld, CTV News Toronto Multi-Platform Writer • April 12, 2022

The crew of an Ontario airline has been detained since early April and is under interrogation after officials say they seized 200 packages of presumed cocaine at a Dominican Republic airport earlier this month.

According to statement issued to CTV News Toronto by Pivot Airlines, an airline launched out of Toronto Pearson International Airport in 2021, five crew members discovered and reported contraband found on the aircraft, bound for Toronto, while grounded at the Punta Cana airport on April 5.

The Dominican Republic’s National Drug Control Directorate (DNCD) said that eight packages, each containing 25 smaller packages of cocaine, totalling 200 packages, were located in the aircraft’s control compartments after an in-depth search.

Pivot confirmed the entire crew, comprised of nine Canadian residents, one Indian resident and one Dominican resident, has been detained since the discovery.

“The Public Prosecutor’s Office and the DNCD are keeping several persons under investigation, who are being interrogated to determine their possible implication,” a press release issued by Dominican authorities on April 6 said.

On Tuesday, Pivot said that the Dominican court has “decided to improve the conditions for [their] crew, and have outlined a process for their eventual release from detention.”

“We are grateful for the decision and are working diligently to secure their release,” the airline said.

When reached for comment, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada told CTV News Toronto they were “aware” of the detention, but that further details couldn’t be provided due to privacy considerations.

Canadian pilots jailed in Dominican Republic after reporting huge cocaine stash on plane

From Vancouver Sun 🔗 link to source story

Tom Blackwell • April 12, 2022

‘It is unacceptable that a Canadian aircrew could remain detained for the duration of a potential twelve month investigation for a suspected crime that they reported’

The plane where the drugs were found used to be owned by a sub-contractor that carried 1.5 million passengers annually on Air Canada Express flights. Photo by Dirección Nacional de Control de Drogas/Twitter

A Canadian charter airline says its pilots and flight attendants are being imprisoned in dangerous, inhumane conditions in the Dominican Republic after reporting to police what turned out to be 200 kilograms of cocaine stashed inside their plane.

The aircraft – a Bombardier regional jet that until two years ago was flying under the Air Canada Express banner – is being held at Punta Cana airport after the discovery of the drugs late last week.

Pivot Airlines said its crew found the contraband in a maintenance compartment that contained “critical” electrical gear and reported the find both to local officials and the RCMP.

They averted a likely air disaster that could have been caused by the extra weight and the flammable packages being close to electrical equipment, said the company.

The crew members are now being held in separate detention facilities. The men are inside a communal cell with accused drug criminals, said the company in a statement.

“They do not speak the language, have been identified as reporting the contraband to authorities and fear for their safety,” said Pivot. “We are deeply concerned for the safety, security and ethical and humane treatment of our crew.”

“It is unacceptable that a Canadian aircrew could remain detained for the duration of a potential twelve-month investigation for a suspected crime that they reported.”

The plane used to be owned by a sub-contractor that carried 1.5 million passengers annually on Air Canada Express flights, before going bankrupt when Air Canada cancelled the arrangement in late 2019.

My phone blew up when this happened… it’s a big deal

Today the same CRJ-100 – now painted a plain white – sits in Punta Cana after the country’s anti-narcotics agency says officers found more than 200 kilograms of cocaine – about $25-million-worth in street value – inside the plane. It had arrived on March 31 and was scheduled to fly to Toronto.

Among the nine Canadians who have been detained for questioning are the jet’s two pilots and two flight attendants, three of whom had crewed those Air Canada flights until relatively recently.

Pivot is a fledgling, charter outfit born out of the demise of Air Georgian – the Air Canada sub-contractor – where many of the country’s commercial aviators began their careers. The industry is abuzz over the incident, said a former Georgian pilot, who often flew the jet held by the Dominicans.

“My phone blew up when this happened: everyone who worked there, pilots, flight attendants, it’s a big deal,” the ex-crew member said.

“I actually didn’t believe it at first,” said the pilot, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the topic in in Canada’s small aviation industry. “All four of (the crew) I personally know, I’ve worked with all of them. My brain was trying to process: how could this be happening?”

The Dominican’s National Directorate for Drug Control (DNCD) said in a news release that it inspected the plane in response to an intelligence report and eventually found eight black gym bags packed with 200 bricks of cocaine.

The bags had been hidden in some of the airliner’s “control compartments,” said a news release from the agency.

“An extensive investigation process has been initiated around this case,” it said. “The Public Ministry, assisted by DNCD agents, are working hard to clearly establish who is directly linked to the seizure of the substance.”

Dominican officials say that officers found more than 200 kilograms of cocaine – about $25-million-worth in street value – inside the plane. Photo by Dirección Nacional de Control de Drogas/Twitter

The former Georgian pilot said the “control compartments” where the cocaine was supposedly found sound like the enclosures that hold equipment such as the plane’s computers and batteries, places he said ground crew might access, but not normally the pilots or flight attendants.

Cocaine is not grown anywhere in the Caribbean so it likely originated in Colombia or possibly Peru or Bolivia, said Jason Eligh, a senior expert with the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime. Given that flights arriving from any of those coke-producing nations face intense scrutiny, traffickers often route them first through other places, he said, and the West Indies is a favourite.

“It’s a wonderful place in that you’ve got a lot of islands, you’ve got a great ability to hide marine vessels,” said Eligh. “Geographically it’s a very good way point.”

He also said criminals frequently transport illicit drugs by plane, including commercial passenger aircraft, and the large majority of them reach their destination without the contraband being intercepted. Baggage handlers and other ground crew – as well as sometimes air crew – have been found to be involved in the past, said Eligh.

And it usually takes some time before police intercept shipments like the one on the Pivot plane, he said.

“It’s probably not the first time this route has been used,” said Eligh. “You don’t make a seizure on the first time someone has been exploiting a particular route.”

The plane, registered under C-FWRR and still bearing the 105 “tail number” used when it flew Air Canada Express routes, has traveled extensively in the Caribbean over the last year, according to the FlightRadar24 website.

Almost all of its 65 flights since mid-December have been to or from the region, including stops in the Dominican Republic, Saint Martin, Jamaica, Nassau, Puerto Rico and Antigua.

The plane made the most visits to Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos, flying in or out more than 65 times since April 2021. Another frequent destination – 18 landings and takeoffs in the last year – was tiny, jungle-covered Suriname in the northeast corner of South America, a country that moves “tons” of cocaine, according to Colombia-based InSight Crime.

Cocaine bust in Dominican Republic entangles Pivot Airlines before it begins flights from Waterloo Region

From The Toronto Star 🔗 link to source story • thanks PN

Drug control agents in the Dominican Republic say they discovered 210 kilograms of illicit cocaine hidden inside a Pivot Airlines jet heading to Canada

By Jeff Outhit, Record Reporter • Friday, April 8, 2022

WATERLOO REGION — A new airline that may soon offer flights out of Waterloo Region has been caught up in a big international cocaine bust.

Drug control agents in the Dominican Republic say they discovered 210 kilograms of illicit cocaine hidden inside a Pivot Airlines jet heading to Canada.

The twin-engine jet was about to depart Punta Cana International Airport on a private flight to Toronto. Agents searched it and found eight black bags filled with bricks of cocaine. The bags were hidden inside aircraft compartments, a news release from the National Directorate for Drug Control for the Central American country states.

The jet was seized. Eleven people, including nine Canadians, have been detained for questioning, the government agency said.

A Dominican news agency recorded a video of the seizure showing 200 wrapped bricks placed on the tarmac outside the jet.

Pivot Airlines said last fall it would begin scheduled flights this past winter from Waterloo regional airport to Ottawa and to Montreal. The new airline later delayed the launch until at least early summer, saying it is waiting for demand for business travel to pick up.

In a statement released Saturday, the Missisauga-based airline said members of Pivot aircrew first discovered the cocaine on board last Tuesday.

“In keeping with our policies and procedures, as well as local and international laws and regulations, the crew immediately reported the discovery to local authorities,” the airline said.

Dominican authorities say tests have confirmed the seized drugs are cocaine.

In 2019 this amount of cocaine would have been worth almost $18 million on the street in Canada, according to a report on global drug use that pegged the street value at that time at $85 per gram.

The airline said it has reported the incident to the RCMP, is co-operating with the Dominican investigation, and has hired lawyers for employees who are detained abroad.

“Our primary concern is our crew’s safety, security, ethical and humane treatment as we seek to ensure their safe return to Canada,” the airline said.

“Together with the three national unions representing the crew members, we continue to co-operate with all relevant authorities as they investigate this matter. We have engaged local embassies and retained reputable and experienced local legal representation in support of our crew members.

“Our focus is on supporting our crew during this difficult time and we are committed to returning them home safely.”

The aircraft is identified by its registration C-FWRR. The Canadian Civil Aircraft Register shows this belongs to a twin-engine, Bombardier-built regional jet owned since July 2020 by the numbered company that operates as Pivot Airlines.

The jet was built in 1996. It was previously owned by Air Georgian before that airline went bankrupt and sold its assets to Pivot Airlines.

In a Spanish-language news conference recorded by a Dominican news agency, an official asserts the cocaine was headed to Toronto before authorities intercepted it.

The RCMP and the Canadian Border Services Agency refused to confirm if they are also investigating.

A police spokesperson said the RCMP “generally does not confirm or deny if an investigation is underway unless criminal charges are laid.”

A spokesperson for the border agency said: “What I can tell you is that the agency works regularly and closely with our domestic and international law enforcement partners in a joint effort to ensure border security, including intelligence and enforcement.”