British Columbia

Former WestJet pilot sues over bomb threat allegations

A series of bomb threats targeting WestJet flights last summer is part of a B.C. Supreme Court lawsuit between the airline and one of its former pilots. Keith Kippen claims he was falsely accused of the crime by police within days of being fired.

Airline claims Keith Kippen was accused of fraud and failing to repay loans to fellow pilots

Former WestJet pilot Keith Kippen claims he was falsely accused of making bomb threats against the airline. (Keith Kippen)

A series of bomb threats targeting WestJet last summer is part of a B.C. Supreme Court legal battle between the airline and one of its former pilots.

Keith Kippen is suing WestJet for wrongful dismissal and defamation.

In a notice of civil claim, the 48-year-old says he was arrested by the Ontario Provincial Police, his property was searched and his computer was seized after WestJet "maliciously communicated" that he was "the caller who had made the bomb threats."

Kippen claims he was fired on June 26, 2015, for "insubordination" after missing a meeting he said he couldn't attend because of a mental health crisis. The first of five bomb threats happened the next day.

A series of five bomb threats were made against WestJet between June 27 and July 2, 2015. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

In its response, WestJet says Kippen was called to a "mandatory" meeting to discuss allegations of fraud by a member of the public and claims by three fellow pilots who allegedly lost thousands after lending Kippen money.

The airline says the pilot was told he would be abandoning his employment if he didn't show up.

WestJet denies having told police it believed Kippen was the caller.

After he was fired, the airline claims, investigators obtained a production order for Kippen's employment records in relation to the bomb threats.

"Communications made to the police concerning the bomb threats were made without malice and in good faith for an honest and well-motivated reason," WestJet's response says.

"WestJet was under a legal, social and/or moral duty to provide information to the police to assist with the bomb threat investigation."

A spokesperson for the OPP says there have been no criminal charges in connection with the investigation.

'Computer disguised voice'

Both Kippen's claim and WestJet's response were filed last week in Chilliwack Supreme Court. Although many of the alleged events are said to have occurred in Ontario, Kippen has an address in B.C.

In a telephone interview, the pilot said he had nothing to do with the bomb threats.

The five calls happened between June 27 and July 2, 2015. At the time, then Transport Minister Lisa Raitt said those responsible would "face the full force of the law."

Saskatoon police remove cats from a plane during their investigation into the first bomb threat made against WestJet on June 27, 2015. (Saskatoon Police Service/CP)

"Each of these threats were ultimately determined to be a hoax," Kippen's claim says. "The bomb threat calls were unidentifiable to WestJet, being in a computer-disguised voice encrypting sounds and gender."

Kippen claims he was diagnosed with depression and anxiety in February 2012 and spent time on both short-term and long-term disability.

In the month before he was fired, Kippen claims WestJet told him he was required to attend meetings to discuss "past business practices" and "claims of theft." But Kippen says he wasn't provided any particulars.

Ahead of the mandatory meeting set for June 26, 2015, Kippen claims he was involuntarily committed to hospital for an emergency psychiatric assessment.

He says a specialist ordered him "not to attend any management meeting until given medical clearance and to perform no flying duties."

As such, Kippen says he told WestJet representatives he couldn't meet until "his mental health improved."

Investigation into fraud allegations

In response, WestJet claims a woman contacted the company's fraud investigation unit in 2014 claiming Kippen had "cheated her out of monies" in relation to unpaid rent.

The response also details allegations involving three WestJet pilots including one who said he lost $180,000 in a business deal with Kippen and another who obtained a judgment against him for $15,865.05.

Passengers and first responders crowd the runway of the Saskatoon airport after WestJet Flight 323 landed due to a bomb threat. (Submitted by Marc MacLeod)

The airline claims supervisors attempted to meet with Kippen to discuss the allegations, sending him an ultimatum ahead of the final meeting: "His employment would be terminated for abandonment if he failed to attend."

WestJet claims it received a "brief note" from a doctor two weeks later.

"The medical note did not specify the plaintiff's medical limitations or restrictions on June 26, 2015," the response says.

"Nor did the note provide any explanation for the plaintiff's failure to communicate with WestJet prior to the meeting."

The response also claims Kippen has since been charged criminally with fraud in Ontario.

Kippen's lawyer, Howard Smith, says he's confident those charges will soon be resolved in his client's favour.

"The allegation of fraud and theft are close to scurrilous. They're so much nonsense." said Smith, who claims two of the three pilots named will be witnesses for Kippen.

WestJet says it had just cause to fire Kippen for insubordination, breaching the airline's anti-fraud policy and business code of conduct, and harming his working relationships with fellow pilots.

'Alleged involvement in the recent bomb threats'

Kippen claims the OPP stopped him on July 14, 2015, on a highway in southern Ontario.

"The OPP officer demanded that Kippen get out of his vehicle, slammed Kippen forcibly into the back of his SUV and detained him," the claim says.

At the London detachment, Kippen claims police "then asked him questions about his alleged involvement in the recent bomb threats against WestJet. Kippen stated that he was not involved in any bomb threat. Kippen was advised by the investigator that WestJet had said he was the bomb threat caller."

The claim says "audio recordings of the calls in question subsequently demonstrated that there was no evidence that Kippen was the caller and Kippen was released."

On the same day, Kippen claims police searched his property, seizing his personal computer, cellphone, old WestJet ID badge and aviation licence. 

He's suing for damages for infliction of emotional distress, claiming the situation worsened his emotional condition "such that he entertained suicidal thoughts."

WestJet denies Kippen's claims.

In response, the airline is seeking special costs against its former pilot, claiming that prior to filing his claim, Kippen threatened to embarrass the company. WestJet claims he wants to undermine the airline's public reputation.

None of the claims by either party have been proven in court.