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The flight that turned this grandmother’s life around: Woman says Air Canada unfairly kicked her off plane

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Ellen Flemming’s trip home from British Columbia to New Brunswick was not going as planned on Aug. 18. She had spent the previous night with her husband and two grandsons in Toronto’s Pearson International Airport after their connection to Saint John was cancelled. The family boarded Air Canada flight 8946 just after 8 a.m., eager to get home.

The 71-year-old never imagined she’d be removed from the plane later that day and allegedly threatened with a lifetime ban by Air Canada. It started with a confrontation with a flight attendant over garbage.

“I went to put my water bottle into the pouch in front of me, and I put my hand in and pulled the pouch out, and my hand, my fingers went into this wet garbage,” Flemming said.

READ: Canadian plane ticket prices rose more than 10% in a year, RBC survey says

She called the flight attendant over to ask him to clean it up.

“And he just stood up tall and said, ‘I’m a flight attendant, I don’t do garbage,’” she said.

“I didn’t know what to do except I just sat there until the cart came down and I thought OK, I’m going to pick it up and there’s usually a little garbage container on the top of the cart, so I thought I’ll put the garbage in that.”

Flemming says the attendant’s reaction shocked her.

“He swiped my hand away, and the garbage, and so my hand came back and hit something on the way, and the garbage flew all over,” she said.

Flemming says she pushed the garbage into the aisle with her foot, as the flight attendant again said he wouldn’t pick it up.

READ MORE: PEI musician’s vintage guitar stabbed by airport forklift, Air Canada offers to replace the case

The woman who was sitting behind her and across the aisle says she watched the incident unfold. Helen Hollett describes the flight attendant as “irate” and “screaming.”

“She just asked him to take the garbage and she was very nice about it and then he just, he got really mad,” Hollett said.

Both women tell Global News that Flemming tried to de-escalate the situation, closing her eyes and not responding when two flight attendants tried to speak with her.

Shortly after that, the plane turned around. Hollett says she asked the crew why they were returning to Toronto.

“I said, ‘Well, if it’s because of the garbage, I’ll clean the garbage if you want me to,’” Hollett said. “And he said no. He said, ‘We’re going back for the safety of the passengers.’”

When the plane landed in Toronto, two Peel Regional Police officers and an Air Canada agent boarded and asked Flemming to leave. She says the Air Canada employee told her she would be rebooked on another flight.

WATCH BELOW: Here are some of your rights as an airplane passenger for cancellations, delays







Flemming told the Air Canada agent and the officers what happened, as the plane took off with her husband and grandsons on board.

But when she tried to get another boarding pass, “I got nowhere with Air Canada,” she said.

“The manager behind the desk, she just said, ‘You’re not ever flying Air Canada again.’”

Flemming bought a ticket with Westjet to Halifax, and arranged for a ride home from there.

READ MORE: Air Canada, WestJet raising checked baggage fees

Air Canada confirms in an email to Global News that a passenger was removed from the flight on Aug. 18, and that local authorities were called to meet the flight.

In a letter addressed to Flemming dated Aug. 30, Air Canada corporate security gives a different version of events. The letter states that she “exhibited aggressive behaviour towards a crewmember; threw garbage on the food trolley; kicked a crewmember when requested to wait until the member could come back and pick up the garbage as he was serving food.”

The Aug. 30 letter adds there is no “ongoing prohibition” that bans Flemming from travelling on Air Canada flights.

Flemming denies Air Canada’s version of events on board the Aug. 18 flight.

The Peel Regional Police, whose officers boarded the plane, give yet another account of the dispute.

In an emailed statement, the force says: “Police spoke with the individuals involved in the incident as well as other passengers seated in the vicinity of the incident. Based on the information received, it was determined that both parties were involved in a loud verbal dispute. Police concluded that no criminal offences were committed.”

Flemming says she asked police to lay an assault charge against the flight attendant in September. She says she was told by the responding officer that there was no probability of conviction, and that she could pursue a civil case if she chooses.

The airline would not agree to an interview or answer questions about what happened, but sent an emailed statement that reads in part:

“We strive to provide a safe and comfortable flight for our passengers and a safe working environment for our employees. Our crew members are professionals who are well-trained to handle challenging situations. We are unable to provide further details or discuss individual passenger files or incidents for reasons of privacy. We encourage customers to contact Air Canada Customer Relations directly with any concerns.”

WATCH BELOW: ‘She didn’t kick him’ — Witness recalls garbage conflict between flight attendant and passenger






Flemming has contacted customer relations. She says the only response she received is that letter. That’s why she turned to air passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs. He helped contact witnesses who were on board the plane to corroborate Flemming’s story, including Helen Hollett, who has signed a sworn affidavit explaining what she saw.

Hollett says she didn’t know Flemming before Aug. 18 but felt compelled to speak up when she heard another passenger say that the flight attendant was alleging he had been kicked.

“I was in a perfect position to see what was happening, and what was happening was wrong,” she said.

“I don’t think that we should be treated that way. I mean, we pay good money for these seats. I do not think that Air Canada should treat people that way.”

READ: Canadian couple stuck overseas after budget airline abruptly goes bankrupt

Lukacs agrees. He’s assisting Flemming in navigating her next steps, which he says include exploring legal options. He thinks she’s entitled to “significant compensation.”

Ultimately, he also wants to see changes in the way the airlines and the police handle these situations. He thinks video surveillance on flights would eliminate the he said-she said nature of an investigation like this one.

“Having some form of surveillance would be very important, both for the passengers and for the flight attendants,” Lukacs said.

He also wants the airlines to be more accountable when passengers are removed from flights.

“I would say that as a new standard, someone from the airline should first arrest the passenger, citizen’s arrest,” he said. “Risking the legal risk that if they falsely arrest the passenger, they are going to jail for false arrest. And then the police should intervene.”

As for Ellen Flemming, she calls the events of that August day “life-changing.” She’s hoping the airline will apologize and reimburse the cost of her WestJet flight.

“There needs to be some accountability. Accountability for that flight attendant’s behaviour, for his actions, accountability for being the cause of a flight getting turned around,” she said.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.



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Regina Pioneer Village resident says long-term solution needed now – Regina

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Regina Pioneer Village is Saskatchewan’s largest seniors complex, but the provincially run facility has been on life support for years.

Now, one longtime resident is speaking out and hoping the province will find a permanent solution to the complex’s infrastructure problems.


READ MORE:
Regina Pioneer Village not the only long-term care facility on life support

“This used to be my home. Now, it’s just a death trap,” said Cathy Girard, a resident of the complex.

Girard moved to the facility in 2007, but over the years she says the standard of care has deteriorated.

“We have mould, we’re overrun with mice — and the shortage of staff, especially nurses, housekeepers and doctors,” Girard said.

“A lot of people are complaining that their eyes are watering, and they have breathing problems.”


READ MORE:
Almost 100 Regina Pioneer Village residents being moved due to mould

The Pioneer Village facility was built in two phases – the first in 1967 and the second in 1972. Due to its age, the building has recently been plagued with ongoing infrastructure issues including weakening brickwork and ageing plumbing and electrical systems.

Back in April, the Saskatchewan Health Authority moved around 94 residents from the facility after a report showed an excessive amount of mould.

Since then, Girard says they’ve been left with more questions than answers.

“What’s going to happen? Are we going to get a new building, or a Band-Aid solution?” Girard said.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority says remediation is currently taking place.

“We have ongoing weekly monitoring and we have air quality monitoring so we feel comfortable with the steps that we’ve taken [and] that the environment remains safe for residents to remain in it and staff to work in it at this time,” said Debbie Sinnett, executive director of ongoing care at Pioneer Village.

In 2014, a provincial report indicated the facility needed around $60 million worth of repairs, but over the past four years, the province has invested just over $8 million.


READ MORE:
Regina Pioneer Village now dealing with water line break

“Every time it rains, there are tiles falling down on people’s heads, and in the summer there’s water leaks, cracks in the ceiling, cracks in the building,” Girard said.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority says it’s working closely with the Ministry of Health to come up with a long-term solution, but Girard says the clock is ticking.

“We can’t just be waiting and sitting on our thumbs; we’ve got to have help now,” she said.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.



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Ontario government says cannabis stores to be phased in

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The Ontario government says it plans to take a « phased approach » to introducing retail cannabis stores, with only a handful of licences being handed out at first.

In a statement Thursday evening, the province says it will issue up to 25 licences ahead of the first day of private retail sales on April 1.

It says the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario will implement a lottery system to determine who is eligible for the initial licences, with the results announced in January.

The province’s Tory government says it was compelled to implement the phased approach due to « severe supply shortages » being experienced by cannabis outlets across the country.

The announcement comes on the same day councillors in Torontoand Ottawa voted to allow privately operated retail stores to open within their boundaries.

The only legal way for Ontario residents to currently acquire recreational weed is through a government-run website, the Ontario Cannabis Store, which has experienced its own shortages.



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Council agrees to talks with province about TTC subway upload

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Councillors have voted to enter into discussions with Premier Doug Ford’s government about the province’s plan to take ownership of the TTC subway system, even though they registered their opposition to the plan.

At a meeting Thursday, council voted 24 to 1 to approve recommendations in a report from City Manager Chris Murray to start talks with the province on a potential “upload” of the subway to Queen’s Park.

But they also voted 23 to 2 to in favour of an amendment from Mayor John Tory to “reaffirm (council’s) support for keeping ownership of the Toronto Transit Commission in the City of Toronto.”

Council passed a similar motion in May, after the Ontario PCs floated the upload in their election platform.

In a speech to council, Tory expressed skepticism about the upload, saying the Ontario PCs have never fleshed out the plan in detail and suggesting the proposal was “a solution in search of a problem.”

The PCs say the city has a poor track record of building new lines, and the province is better positioned financially to create an efficient regional transit network.

But city staff were unable to answer questions raised by councillors Thursday about what the plan would mean for TTC service or the city’s ability to co-ordinate transit with land use planning.

I think, in the end, the best way to protect the transit system … is to go to the table and get answers to the questions,” said Tory.

Staunch opponents of the upload agreed it was best to talk with Queen’s Park, given the legislative authority the province has over the city.

“As the largest city in this country, as the economic engine of this province and country, our ability to own and operate the transit system is central to our success,” said Councillor Joe Cressy (Ward 10 Spadina-Fort York). He said he saw “zero benefit” to Ford’s government taking over the subway.

“I believe we should use absolutely every tool that we have, every tool at our disposal, to fight this. And that includes, based on our legislative framework, being at the table.”

The recommendations approved by council authorize the city manager to enter into an agreement with the province under which the city would share information about the subway system that could help facilitate the upload.

Staff are expected to report back to council early next year with an update.

In a letter to Tory last month, Ontario Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek said he wanted the city’s written commitment by no later than Thursday that it would participate in the information-sharing agreement.

The minister said the goal of the exercise is to assess the value of the subway assets, the maintenance backlog, and the operating costs of the network.

A confidential legal opinion attached to the city report warned council effectively has no legal power to prevent the upload.

The legal opinion, which was obtained by the Star, said Queen’s Park could unilaterally take ownership of the network without compensating the city financially, and even leave the municipality on the hook for the billions of dollars of debt it has accrued funding the system.

Although the city manager’s recommendations passed with almost unanimous support, some councillors vowed fierce pushback if the province actually takes concrete steps to upload the subway. Yurek has said the Ontario PC’s could introduce enabling legislation early next year.

Councillor Krystin Wong-Tam (Ward 13 Toronto Centre) called the subway the “heart and the spine” of Toronto and argued it has to remain integrated with the bus and streetcar network in order to provide quality service. She urged council to block Ford’s plans.

“I think we’re about to get into the biggest fight in this term if (Ford) is successful in taking this away from us” she said.

In a statement released Thursday evening, Yurek said he was pleased with council’s decision.

“Our government was elected to get the people of Ontario moving and we are working towards that goal,” he said. Yurek claimed that the city “is not good at planning or building subways.”

He promised to carry out talks with the city “in good faith.”

In another significant transit decision Thursday, council voted 19 to 3 to extend the King St. streetcar pilot project until July 31, 2019. City transportation staff said they needed more time to collect and report on data from the pilot, which was set to expire on December 31. Their final report is expected by March, after which council will decide whether to make the project permanent.

Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at bspurr@thestar.ca or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr



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