Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says it was a “slap in the face” for a group of Quebec reality TV stars and influencers to party in close proximity, maskless, on a recent Sunwing flight from Montreal to Cancun, Mexico.
Videos of the Dec. 30 flight shared on social media show passengers not wearing masks as they use vapes, hold a large bottle of vodka, and sing and dance in the aisles and on seats.
“It’s a slap in the face to see people putting themselves, putting their fellow citizens, putting airline workers at risk by being completely irresponsible,” Trudeau said, speaking to reporters on Wednesday.
He added that the videos made him feel “extremely frustrated.”
“We know how hard people have worked to keep themselves safe, to limit their family gatherings at Christmastime, to wear masks, to get vaccinated, to do all the right things,” Trudeau said.
“I can assure you this is a situation Transport Canada takes extremely seriously, and we are definitely following up on that.”
According to the federal government, the plane had been chartered. Social media posts suggest some of the passengers were cast members from Quebec reality television shows, including the Quebec adaptation of the popular British dating series “Love Island.”
Meanwhile, Quebec has faced an explosion of COVID-19 cases over recent weeks — prompting the province and neighbouring Ontario to implement new stringent restrictions.
On Wednesday, Canada reported 37,410 new COVID cases and 57 deaths, but a number of provinces have restricted COVID-19 PCR testing as they drown in the demand — so the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has warned that daily case counts will likely underestimate the true numbers.
As of Dec. 27, 1,830 COVID-19 patients were reported in Canadian hospitals, and 480 of them were in intensive care units, according to national data.
Last month, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos warned Canadians not to travel abroad as Omicron continues to spread.
“To those who were planning to travel, I say very clearly, now is not the time to travel,” he said during a Dec. 15 press conference.
“The rapid spread of the Omicron variant on a global scale makes us fear the worst for Canadians that may think of travelling. Travelling Canadians could contract the virus, or get stranded abroad.”
After news broke of the party on the plane, Sunwing cancelled the travellers’ flight home, calling the group’s behaviour “unruly” and pointing out that they “contravened several Canadian Aviation Regulations as well as public health regulations.”
Sunwing Airlines is coming under fire for its role in the flight, too. One Conservative MP has called on the government to claw back the subsidies it provided the company to help keep them afloat during the pandemic.
In February, Sunwing Airlines Inc. and Sunwing Vacations Inc. accessed $375 million under the Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility.
“It just seems that all the elites are able to get on planes and go to fancy places and enjoy wonderful vacations with no masks on (giving) sloppy kisses to each other and pounding back bottle after a bottle of high price champagne,” said Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre, after calling on the government to claw back the support for Sunwing.
He added that the rule breaking was “sickening.”
Meanwhile, opportunities for the group to return home are narrowing. A different airline, Air Transat, took to social media on Wednesday to share that the revelers won’t be able to travel home on their airplanes, either.
“We are aware of the situation regarding disruptive passengers who have traveled to Cancun and are now attempting to return to Canada on our flights,” Air Transat tweeted.
“We confirm that they will be denied boarding based on our legal and regulatory obligations to ensure the safety of both our passengers and crew, which is our top priority.”
In a joint statement Tuesday, Duclos and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said that if Transport Canada determines that non-compliance with regulations and requirements has occurred, fines of up to $5,000 per offence could be issued to passengers.
On Instagram, 111 Private Club took credit for the flight, describing the all-inclusive New Year’s trip to Mexico it organized as the “best event of the year.” It posted a screenshot of a newspaper article about the flight with the caption, “We made the news.”
James William Awad, who operates 111 Private Club, took to Twitter to defend his group.
“The 111 private club respected all instructions given by Sunwing. Alcohol was sold to my group throughout the whole flight,” he said.
“My group is A1.”
— With files from The Canadian Press