The recent arrest of a Sunwing Airlines pilot in Calgary is spurring questions about Canadian laws around alcohol testing for pilots and crew—protocols which appear to be unclear to airlines themselves, Global News has learned.
On Dec. 31, the pilot tested at three times over the legal alcohol limit two hours after he was found unconscious in the cockpit.
Sunwing spokesperson Jacqueline Grossman originally suggested it is “illegal in Canada to do mandatory full or random drug or alcohol testing on employees” in an email to Global News Monday night.
But the federal government says there is no specific provision in the Canada Labour Code addressing alcohol or drug testing in the workplace.
“This is the first such incident that has occurred in our 11-year history as an airline,” Grossman said in an updated statement Tuesday.
“As a federally regulated airline with unionized workers, our initial legal advice has been that we are not in a position to enforce drug or alcohol testing for our workers. That said, it is a complex legal issue which requires further review.”
Watch below: Miroslav Gronych, 37, will appear in court Jan. 5 after police say his blood alcohol was three times the legal limit. Reid Fiest reports.
Miroslav Gronych, a Slovakian national in Canada on a work visa, was escorted from the aircraft after the gate crew and the co-pilot noticed odd behaviour and alerted police. He 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 (or exceeding 80 mgs of alcohol per 100mL of blood).
Calgary police said he was released on $1,000 bail and had to surrender his passport. He is also suspended from flying any other aircraft in Canada.
Dr. Gregg Bendrick, an aerospace medicine specialist who also works as a senior aviation medical examiner with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), said Monday there is a clear drug and alcohol testing program for commercial airline pilots in the U.S., which includes a random testing component. He said anyone identified as impaired would then be evaluated to see if they suffer from alcoholism.
He said the reading of “three times the legal limit” reported by Calgary police would mean a reading of about 2.4 mgs of alcohol per 100mL of blood, raising the possibility of an addiction.
Grossman said Gronych had “no previous violations of this nature in his file” and that he’s been suspended pending a Jan. 5 court date.
Grossman originally referred Global News to the Canadian Human Rights Act for details on how a “non-legislated drug or alcohol testing program in a private sector company would be challenged.”
But Employment and Social Development Canada said random testing is legal.
“Random testing of employees in safety-sensitive positions (defined as those in which incapacity due to drug or alcohol impairment could result in direct and significant risk of injury to the employee, others or the environment) has been determined to be permissible in a number of circumstances, as long as employees are notified that alcohol testing is a condition of employment,” spokesperson Amélie Maisonneuve said in an email sent Tuesday to Global News.
“Currently, there is no specific provision in the Canada Labour Code addressing drug and alcohol testing in the workplace.”
She then referred Global News to the Canadian Human Rights Commission on their Policy on Alcohol and Drug Testing, which reads, in part:
If testing is part of a broader program of medical assessment, monitoring and support, employers can test for alcohol in any of the following situations:
- on a random basis, for employees who hold safety-sensitive positions;
- for “reasonable cause,” where an employee reports for work in an unfit state and there is evidence of substance abuse;
- after a significant incident or accident has occurred and there is evidence that an employee’s act or omission may have contributed to the incident or accident; or
- following treatment for alcohol abuse, or disclosure of a current alcohol dependency or abuse
Transport Canada said it is “currently reviewing the pilot’s records and Sunwing Airlines’ procedures and protocols,” however, said the airline is responsible for any disciplinary action against the pilot. A spokesperson said alcohol testing was outside the realm of Transport Canada’s involvement in the incident.
“Air carriers are responsible for their own human resources policies, including random drug and alcohol testing,” spokesperson Natasha Gauthier said in an email to Global News.
Air Canada and the Air Canada Pilots Association did not respond to Global News requests for comment on their policies.
A WestJet spokesperson said the company has an “alcohol and drug policy that provides for testing in a manner that is consistent with Canadian law.” WestJet declined to comment on the specifics of the policy, including whether pilots are aware of alcohol testing and whether it is random.
With files from Reid Fiest