A prosecutor in the Dominican Republic is seeking to hold a Canadian aircrew in jail for up to 12 months after more than 200 kg cocaine was found last month onboard an aircraft they were operating, the unions representing the workers say.
The Air Line Pilots Association International (ALPA), Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), and Unifor released a statement Monday calling on the Canadian government “to secure the safe return of five Canadians who have been arbitrarily imprisoned in the Dominican Republic after reporting a crime they were not involved in.”
The unions said that for more than 40 days, the Pivot Airlines crew members “have been arbitrarily detained, threatened, and prosecuted after discovering and reporting 200kg of narcotics to the police.”
The unions have launched a campaign aimed at petitioning the Canadian government to secure the “immediate return” of the crew.
Unifor has identified their member involved in the incident as Bal Krishna Dubey, a part-time electrical mechanic at Pivot Airlines.
CUPE has identified their members as Christina Carello and Alexander Rozov, both Pivot Airlines flight attendants.
In a letter previously sent to Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly, Pivot Airlines CEO Eric Edmondson said that on April 5 while conducting a commercial charter, the crew discovered suspected contraband in a maintenance compartment and “immediately reported” it.
“Despite following Transport Canada approved policies and international laws, the crew were immediately detained by local authorities,” the letter said.
The aircraft was set to fly from Punta Cana to Toronto, Dominican officials said.
In an April 6 press release, the National Directorate for Drug Control said nine Canadians, one person from India and another from the Dominican Republic were “being questioned to determine their possible involvement.”
The crew was detained but later released on bail, which both the unions and airline said the prosecutor is appealing.
A report by the National Post late last month said Dominican Republic prosecutors are alleging the airliner was a drug-smuggling front, despite offering little actual evidence.
“It is entirely unacceptable that our members have been thrown in jail for doing their jobs, and dutifully reporting a crime,” Tim Perry, the president of ALPA Canada said in Monday’s statement.
“We are urging the Canadian government to take serious action and help bring our crew home.”
The unions said the prosecutor is seeking to hold the individuals in jail for 12 months as the investigation goes on.
“Our member is a part-time worker, who had the misfortune of becoming entangled in a dangerous situation, after finding and reporting illegal drugs onboard,” Scott Doherty, the executive assistant to Unifor’s national president, said.
“Our union joins his family and friends in their concern for his safety. We need the federal government to intervene immediately.”
Wesley Lesosky, the president of CUPE’s airline division, said “Canadian lives are at risk.”
“We are gravely concerned about our members and the entire crew, who have been held captive under tremendously challenging conditions,” Lesosky said.
“We need our government to act.”
Appeal yet to be heard: airline
In a statement sent to Global News on Tuesday, Pivot Airlines said the prosecutor’s appeal to the bail decision has yet to be heard.
“While we were able to secure the release of our crew, a condition of their release was they must remain in the Dominican Republic until the matter is resolved,” the statement said.
“We anticipate this process could take upwards of 12 months, all while our crew faces threats of reprisal by those who lost 200kg of narcotics when they reported the crime….
“If reporting narcotics crime in the Dominican Republic can result in up to a year of arbitrary detention, all Canadians should be extremely cautious travelling there.”
Feds providing consular assistance: Global Affairs
Global News contacted the federal government for a response to the situation.
Jason Kung, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, said the Canadian government’s “first priority is always the safety and security of its citizens.”
“Global Affairs Canada is aware of the incident involving Pivot Airlines in the Dominican Republic,” Kung said.
“Canadian officials continue to monitor the situation closely, are engaging with local authorities, and providing consular assistance. Due to privacy considerations, no further information can be disclosed.”
Adrien Blanchard, a spokesperson for Joly, previously told Global News that Parliamentary Secretary Maninder Sidhu travelled to the Dominican Republic and met with local government officials, where he raised the incident involving Pivot Airlines.
— With files from Hannah Jackson