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Air Nunavut takes feds to court over fine for unauthorized bathroom break

Air Nunavut is fighting a $2,500 fine after it was penalized for allowing passengers on an international charter flight to use the bathroom during a refueling stop.

Flight refueled in Clyde River, where passengers needed to relieve themselves

This Air Nunavut King Air plane is at the centre of a $2,500 dispute over whether the airline should have allowed passengers off the plane to use the bathroom on a charter flight from Greenland to Iqaluit in May 2019. (Frank Reardon)

Air Nunavut has filed a lawsuit in federal court to fight a $2,500 fine for letting passengers leave the plane for a bathroom break on a 2019 charter flight.

The airline filed the lawsuit last week, after the federal government denied its appeal because the carrier had allowed passengers to enter the country without reporting to a customs office.

The dispute stems from a May 2019 charter flight from Qaanaaq, Greenland, to Iqaluit.

The May 2019 charter flight had to stop in Clyde River, Nunavut, to refuel. There is no security, or customs processing at the local airport in the Hamlet of just more than 1,000 people. (Scott Galley/CBC News)

Air Nunavut was carrying nine passengers on its King Air aircraft, which isn't equipped with a bathroom. The statement of claim didn't specify how long the flight took.

The plane also doesn't have the range to make the trip without refueling.

The flight made an authorized stop in Clyde River, Nunavut, to gas up, when passengers asked the pilot if they could enter the airport's terminal to use the bathroom.

Passengers 'would have soiled themselves'

According to Air Nunavut's account, the flight's captain led the passengers to the washroom facilities in the airport building and returned them immediately to the plane.

"During the temporary exit from the aircraft, the passengers were, at all times, under the supervision and control of the Air Nunavut pilot," the statement of claim reads.

Air Nunavut also said there was nobody else inside the airport at the time, except for the local "aviation regulator" who was in their office with the door closed.

The plane then went on its way after the 30-minute stopover, and landed in Iqaluit on time.

While they were in Clyde River, a local RCMP officer noticed the line of passengers entering the terminal and notified Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers in Iqaluit.

In an August 2019 letter upholding the fine, the resource directorate for Canada Border Services Agency said regardless of the reasoning behind it, the decision to let passengers off the plane ultimately broke the law. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Although the CBSA told Air Nunavut a month prior that no passengers could leave the aircraft on the stopover, Air Nunavut argued not allowing them to use the bathroom would have compromised their safety and security.

"The pilot could have refused the passengers' requests to relieve themselves with the result that the passengers would have soiled themselves or the interior of the aircraft with their waste," the statement of claim reads.

"This result would have endangered the safety and security of the passengers and the aircraft to say nothing of their human dignity."

Air Nunavut also said the pilot, alternatively, could have "allowed the passengers to relieve themselves from the open hatch of the aircraft cabin onto the airfield below."

This alternative would have also had repercussions on the passengers' safety and security and on their human dignity, the airline said, and it "would have resulted in the depositing of untreated human waste on the airfield."

Federal government upheld fine after appeal

Air Nunavut had tried to appeal the fine before ultimately bringing it to federal court.

Regardless of the reasoning behind it, the decision to let passengers off the plane ultimately broke the law, said Martin Belanger, the resource directorate for CBSA, in an August 2019 letter upholding the fine.

"The penalty is intended to promote compliance with the Act in any future interactions with [CBSA] on this matter," reads the decision letter.

"More importantly, failure to transport passengers and crew to a customs office … impedes the agency from discharging its mandate to risk assess all passenger and goods prior to entering Canada."

With files from Rob Antle

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