January 4, 2017 6:59 pm
Updated: January 5, 2017 1:54 pm

Transport minister calling on Canada’s airlines to ensure pilots are fit to fly

Canada's transport minister is reacting to the arrest of a pilot who was pulled off a Sunwing flight for being intoxicated with a message for airlines. As Reid Fiest reports, larger questions remain about what Canadian companies can do to ensure their pilots are sober.

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In the wake of the arrest of a pilot who was tested at three times the legal alcohol limit before he was removed from a cockpit in Calgary, Canada’s transport minister is addressing confusion among airlines and regulators about measures to ensure pilots are fit to be behind the controls of aircraft with hundreds of passengers on board.

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In an email to Global News, which has been pressing for clarification on regulations and testing, the federal transport minister, Marc Garneau, is said to be “very concerned” by the incident in Calgary.

“In order to ensure the highest safety standards, he is writing to all passenger airline companies that operate in Canada asking them to confirm that their protocols and Safety Management Systems are up to date and being enforced ‎with all required resources, including measures designed to confirm pilots’ fitness to fly,” Marc Roy, Garneau’s director of communications, wrote Wednesday.

Garneau was not available for an interview with Global News.

Watch below: Miroslav Gronych, 37, will appear in court Jan. 5 after police say his blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit. Reid Fiest reports.

Global News has uncovered a great deal of confusion about policies related to random drug and alcohol testing.

READ MORE: Sunwing unclear on alcohol, drug testing laws in wake of impaired pilot’s arrest

Transport Canada has said alcohol testing is “up to the employer” but that members of a flight crew are prohibited from working within eight hours of consuming alcohol or while under the influence. The government says the Aeronautics Act and the Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs) do not regulate mandatory or random drug or alcohol testing on crew members of aircraft.

But there is also a legal road block to random testing, which would also seem to be news to some government departments. A 2013 Supreme Court of Canada decision ruled “an employer must demonstrate evidence of an alcohol problem in the workplace in order to justify a random alcohol testing policy.”

The federal Justice Department also cited that case in a response sent Wednesday:

“There is nothing specific in the Canada Labour Code about drug and alcohol testing,” spokesperson Ian McLeod reiterated. “However, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada, Local 30 v. Irving Pulp & Paper, Ltd. that an employer cannot unilaterally implement random alcohol or drug testing even in a highly dangerous workplace, unless there is a demonstrated workplace problem or it is ‘for cause’ testing of an individual employee.”

But that contradicts what Employment and Social Development Canada told Global News on Tuesday, that “there is no specific provision in the Canada Labour Code addressing drug and alcohol testing in the workplace.” It then pointed to the Canadian Human Rights Commission’s Policy on Alcohol and Drug Testing, which included a section suggesting random testing without reasonable cause is legal—a policy which Global News learned Thursday is outdated and currently under revision.

“That’s our fault if it’s still online,” Canadian Human Rights Commission spokesperson Carmen Devereaux told Global News.

“The policy is currently being revised based on current jurisprudence and a new policy is going to be issued in the coming weeks.”

She declined to provide details, explaining the updated policy has not yet been approved. While the outdated policy was removed from the official CHRC site in January 2016, it’s still accessible online on what the CHRC called an “old link.”

Watch below: According to investigators, the captain of a plane in Calgary on Dec. 31 was passed out in the cockpit. Reid Fiest reports.

The Air Canada Pilots Association (ACPA) said Wednesday that in Canada, “mandatory random testing is not generally supported by the jurisprudence.”

“ACPA pilots are well aware that they must comply with all regulations governing the operation of aircraft, including those of Transport Canada,” Maria Hypponen said in an email to Global News.

A WestJet spokesperson provided further details on its testing policy Wednesday, which she said is in accordance with Canadian law.

“In Canada, testing is legally permitted under certain conditions, in a number of circumstances including pre-employment, reasonable cause, and post-incident,” Lauren Stewart said in an email to Global News. “Random testing is only permitted under Canadian law as part of a monitoring/continuous support arrangement or for certain safety sensitive positions where the employer is able to demonstrate a substance abuse issue in the workplace and that the testing program is otherwise reasonable.”

The system in Canada stands in stark contrast to the situation in the U.S. and the European union. Rules currently posted on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) website as of September 2015 indicate alcohol testing programs that include on-site inspections.

The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) proposed last month that alcohol testing procedures be updated to include “mandatory random alcohol screening of flight and cabin crew” and on-site inspections.

Police said Miroslav Gronych was charged with having care and control of an aircraft while impaired and having care and control of an aircraft while having a blood alcohol level over .08 in connection with an incident at the Calgary International Airport on Dec. 31, 2016.

Nový Čas / Ringier Axel Springer Slovakia

Sunwing Airlines said the pilot arrested in the Calgary incident had “no previous violations of this nature in his file” and was suspended pending his court date.

Calgary police said Miroslav Gronych had been released on $1,000 bail, surrendered his passport, and was suspended from flying any other aircraft in Canada.

His court date is set for Jan. 5 in Calgary.

With files from Reid Fiest

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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