Transport Minister Marc Garneau said he is open to hearing arguments in favour of randomly testing airline pilots for alcohol consumption, a measure not currently practised in Canada.
Early last month, after impaired charges were laid against a Sunwing pilot who was found unconscious in a plane at the Calgary airport, the Liberals wouldn’t commit to considering the measure.
In the wake of the Sunwing case, Garneau announced he was convening airlines, unions and medical experts in the spring in an effort to ensure nothing like it happens again.
It is a criminal offence in Canada for any member of a flight crew to work within eight hours of consuming alcohol or while under the influence.
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Transport Canada sets the regulations to which Canadian airlines are bound, but ensuring the rules are followed is incumbent on the airlines.
“Transport Canada can’t be sitting at the entrance of every cockpit of every flight in the country, so it is done by the airlines themselves,” Garneau said Thursday.
In the lead up to the spring summit, Garneau asked airlines to confirm their safety protocols were “up-to-date,” including steps taken to guarantee their pilots are fit to fly.
WATCH: Federal transport minister responds to Drunk Sunwing pilots arrest
The top eight Canadian airlines, which represents 90 per cent of passengers flying on Canadian carriers, confirmed their protocols on alcohol and drug testing are robust, the minister’s office said.
Though it may be on the table, the legality of implementing random alcohol and drug testing is questionable.
A lawyer specializing in impairment and employment laws told Global News in January that random testing is “almost never permitted” in Canada – despite being a routine part of American testing regulated under the Federal Aviation Administration.
Georg Reuter pointed to a 2013 Supreme Court of Canada decision that ruled random testing of employees would only be permitted in very rare instances in which an employer could prove there was a general problem with drug and alcohol abuse in the workplace.
WATCH: Sunwing unclear on sobriety test rules
The government could, however, try to implement a law allowing random testing for pilots, he said.
Garneau, however, said the government for now is relying on the Supreme Court’s ruling.
“There are different rules in other countries, but in Canada because of the Charter of Rights, we have a particular approach,” the minister said.
Sunwing Airlines, the company that employed the foreign pilot arrested in Calgary in December, said it will attend the minister’s workshop this spring. Air Canada and WestJet also said they will participate.
Safety protocols in Canada stand in marked contrast to those in the United States, where the Federal Aviation Administration regulates alcohol testing for U.S. airlines; their pilots and crew are subject to testing throughout their employment.
Transport Canada, however only forbids flight crew from working within eight hours of consuming alcohol, but doesn’t mandate random testing.
With files from Global News’ Erika Tucker