Air Canada passenger alleges seat mate groped her as she slept
Sex assault charge laid against 40-year-old man after plane that left Saint John landed in Toronto
A New Brunswick woman alleges she was groped on an Air Canada flight by a man sitting next to her, and accuses the airline of making terrible mistakes in handling her sexual assault complaint.
The woman says she was groped by the stranger on the flight from Saint John to Toronto, but that the crew never called police.
But the woman wants her story told.
"Never in my wildest dreams did I think I shouldn't be going to sleep, or that I wasn't safe going to sleep."
The woman takes biweekly flights between her home in Saint John and work in the oil patch, with a stop in Toronto to change planes. Her routine includes taking a nap on the early-morning flight from Saint John to Toronto.
Last month, she alleges, she awoke to a stranger's hand groping near her crotch.
"I basically look over, and the guy has his mouth open and looks shocked," she says.
I jumped up and said I woke up to somebody touching me in my sleep.- Air Canada passenger from Saint John
"I rang for the stewardess. Nobody came. I jumped up and said I woke up to somebody touching me in my sleep."
A flight attendant moved her to another seat, but the crew did nothing more, she said.
"I thought once you go to the stewardess, that she's to go to the pilot and he's in charge of the plane, so somebody will do something."
The woman says that when the man was allowed to get off the plane at Pearson International Airport, she complained to Air Canada staff at the customer service desk. They called police and the man was arrested before he could board a flight to Shanghai.
Documents provided to the woman by Peel Regional Police indicate the 40-year-old man has been charged with sexual assault, released on bail and ordered to surrender his passport. The man is scheduled to appear in court in Brampton, Ont., on April 20.
Two weeks after the incident, Air Canada's vice-president of human resources, Arielle Meloul-Wechsler. emailed her and stated " … as a woman and an executive of the company, I would like to discuss with you …" and also stated, "My intention was to … reach out to you woman to woman."
The woman says her impression from that message is Meloul-Wechsler "basically wants to speak with me and smooth things over."
"There's no doubt that a sexual assault happening on board an airline's flight and being mishandled so badly is an embarrassment for the airline."
Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said the airline couldn't comment on the woman's case as it is before the courts, but says the crew "responded in a manner considered appropriate based on the information provided at the time" and "the matter will be reviewed."
The woman from Saint John says Air Canada should provide better training to staff, and when apparent sexual assaults happen, the airline shouldn't blame the victim.
"They handled it very poorly," said the woman. "They basically blamed me for not causing enough of a scene. And said they didn't understand the severity of it when I approached the stewardess."
The woman says she didn't realize nothing was being done about the incident until she got the customer service desk in Pearson.
"I kept thinking something was happening and putting good faith that somebody was going to help me, that I didn't need to scream at the top of my lungs at the airport, `Please help me,'" she said. "I thought once you go to the stewardess, that she's going to the pilot and he's in charge of the plane so somebody will do something. But I was wrong.
"By blaming me the victim, they have basically just bullied me, and tried to silence me and make this go away," she said. "I don't think that's right and I definitely need to say something."