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Unions demand return of flight crew detained in Dominican Republic for six weeks

·2 min read

Unions are calling on the federal government to secure the return of five Canadian airline employees detained in the Dominican Republic.

The flight crew has been held for more than 40 days after it discovered 200 kilograms of cocaine in the plane's avionics bay and reported it to police in Punta Cana on April 5, say three labour organizations representing 93,000 aviation workers.

The Air Line Pilots Association, the Canadian Union for Public Employees and Unifor say their members were arbitrarily detained, threatened and prosecuted despite following Transport Canada protocols and international laws.

The crew members — two pilots, two flight attendants and one part-time maintenance engineer on a Pivot Airlines charter flight — were jailed then later released on bail after surrendering their passports pending further investigation.

“They’re being essentially held in a foreign country without proper evidence being presented. We’ve asked the government to intervene and return them home," pilots association president Tim Perry said in a phone interview from the Montreal airport.

"We’ve heard credible threats against their safety."

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly and the Prime Minister's Office have both acknowledged the situation to unions and airline, he added.

Global Affairs Canada spokesman Jason Kung said in an email last month the department is aware of the detention and that consular officials are providing assistance, but privacy considerations prevent disclosing more information.

“It's obviously a tense situation. Our member is certainly worried. He’s got a young family living at home," said Unifor spokesman Scott Doherty.

“The indications are that this is cartel-related.”

The Dominican Republic prosecutor, which is appealing the five crew members' bail, aims to hold the crew members in jail for more than 12 months, the unions said.

"We are gravely concerned about our members and the entire crew, who have been held captive under tremendously challenging conditions," Wesley Lesosky, who heads CUPE's airline division, said in a joint release.

"The fact is Canadian lives are at risk in the Dominican Republic. We need our government to act."

That country's National Directorate for Drug Control said in an April 6 release it found "eight black packages" in the avionics bay of a private plane bound for Toronto from Punta Cana International Airport. Each package contained 25 smaller packets, the agency said, amounting to more than 440 pounds of cocaine.

The directorate said nine Canadians, one Dominican and one person from India were under investigation.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 16, 2022.

Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

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