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YOUR QUESTIONS | More on the high-flying RIM execs

You had some questions for us about the rowdy former RIM execs whose behaviour provoked an unscheduled landing. Ian Hanomansing combed the sentencing transcripts to find some answers.
An Air Canada Boeing 777, like the one diverted to Vancouver last week because of rowdy behaviour.

It certainly was an attention-grabbing headline: "Fired RIM execs 'chewed through restraints' on flight."

But that action was only a small part of what a B.C. Provincial Court Judge called "disgusting" behaviour, and what the captain of the Air Canada plane said was nothing like he had ever seen in his 38-year career.

Many people who saw and read our story on the in-flight conduct of former RIM executives George Campbell and Paul Wilson wanted to know more about what transpired on Air Canada flight 31, from Toronto to Beijing earlier this month, judging by the comments on the story. 

Were you on board Air Canada flight 31 to Beijing when this incident occurred? We'd like to hear your version of the events.

There have only been two sources of information on this case. The RCMP in B.C. issued only a brief news release on Dec. 1, which gave the basic information: the names of the two men, their offence (mischief) and their sentence ($72,000 in restitution and probation for a year).

But CBC News has now obtained the transcript of the sentencing hearing, which has more detail.

Based on that transcript and some other research we did, here are some responses to the questions posted online:

How could Campbell and Wilson "chew through their restraints"?

With the RCMP and the Crown prosecutor not commenting on the details of the case, we had to rely on the court transcripts.

Prosecutor Gerri-Lynn Nelson told the judge: "They made attempts to get out of their restraints. They chewed their way through the restraints."

She never specified the material they chewed through but said, "they kept getting up and banging on the seats, they weren't listening to the air crew, they tried restraining them with plastic cuffs. One male got out of those so they wound up using tape."

And it does appear one of the men was persistent.

"Mr. Wilson was attempting to break the restraints with his mouth for an hour or two," the prosecutor went on. "As I said, they ultimately chewed through — through the restraints."

Were drugs involved?

There were repeated references in the sentencing hearing to drinking and intoxication. But there was also evidence the two men each took at least one pill.

The defence lawyer, Robert Parsonage, told the court "obviously alcohol was a factor. They also, each of these two gentlemen took a prescription sleeping pill, and that clearly was a contributing factor as well."

You might be wondering what sleeping pill combined with alcohol would create the frenzy described in court. But the prosecutor apparently never did determine that.

She said: "One of them was seen to be taking a pill. We don't know what that was. Hopefully it was a prescription drug, since they were flying into China. One doesn't want to be taking drugs into China."

Why did it matter the pair worked for RIM?

Some of you put the question in much blunter terms, suggesting we at the CBC were trying to discredit the BlackBerry maker. That is certainly not the case.

So, why include it? Well, it is part of the issue in the sentencing.

For example, Judge Ronald Fratkin said "I am mindful of what [the defence lawyer] has said with regard to the punishment that is about to be meted out, not by this court but by the employer because this is totally work-related behaviour.

"The name of the company is on the line, and two representatives of that company behaved in a fashion that not only is alarming, but is before this court having pled guilty to a criminal offence."

It is always a challenge to determine which details to put in a news story and which to leave out. The relevance in the sentencing made their positions (vice-presidents) and the company (RIM) obvious facts to include. The reader can decide whether it has any relevance beyond that.

By the way, there was information from the court transcript we did leave out, including the men's salaries, details about their families and their nationalities. Again, it's all part of the imperfect art of deciding how descriptive a story should be.

Were Campbell and Wilson intoxicated when they boarded and were they served liquor by Air Canada?

It never was an issue in the sentencing hearing. The prosecutor did quote one passenger who said "when the males boarded the flight they seemed quite intoxicated, they drank more, passed out, one would wake up and lean over the little cubicle, slap the other guy on the head because he wanted somebody to drink with, and then they would yell and abuse each other, then they'd pass out, then they'd wake up and start kicking again."

We asked Air Canada to comment but Angela Mah, one of their public relations representatives wrote: "We are declining an on-camera as it is not our policy to discuss such incidents publicly, especially after the courts have dealt with it."

Given the mayhem on this flight, why only a charge of mischief?

I wondered that too. After all, the prosecutor said in court that "Mr. Campbell was threatening to off people when they left the plane."

At another point in the hearing, she said "Mr. Campbell was abusive to [another passenger], threatened him, 'I know who you are and I'll get you.'"

She added that "Mr. Wilson is alleged to have pushed a flight attendant." And later, "there was a threat on one of … to punch one of the other flight attendants."

Should more serious charges have been laid?

The spokesman for B.C. Crown prosecutors, Neil McKenzie, answered in an email: "The charge of mischief was approved based on the available evidence as disclosed in the report to Crown counsel.

"While I can't discuss the specifics of the Crown's assessment of the evidence, the evidence available at the time of the charge assessment did not provide sufficient basis to approve other charges."

Was a pragmatic decision made that guilty pleas on mischief were better than an expensive trial (with witnesses from Ontario and China) on a more serious charge?

Still, how well could the evidence be assessed when the incident happened on a Monday, the charges laid on Tuesday and the sentences handed out on Wednesday?

The transcript indicates that there was a lot here the Crown did not verify, such as the type of pills consumed, which of the men threatened a flight attendant and, most glaringly, the cost to Air Canada of the diverted flight.

Why does it cost so much to land a plane?

At the hearing, the Crown quoted the aircraft's captain as saying the cost of the unscheduled landing was $500,000. Among the expenses were putting everyone in hotels for the night, extra fuel and navigation charges and bringing in a new crew for the resumption of the flight to Beijing.

But that estimate wasn't accurate enough for the judge, who ordered the Crown to verify the costs. When she contacted Air Canada, it turned out the actual extra charges were $193,900.

The speed of this case, from incident to sentencing, may have been a relief to the two men. They were out of court and on their way out of the province before the public knew about the case.

But that swiftness also may have cost them an extra $70,000. It was the judge — not the Crown — who demanded restitution for the costs of hotel, meal and credit vouchers for the passengers. That wasn't part of the pre-hearing discussions between the lawyers.

As the defence lawyer, Robert Parsonage, realized what was happening, he objected to the judge: "At this time, under these proceedings, it's inappropriate … for you to impose or consider imposing some restitution.

"All we have now, we don't have any receipts, we don't have anything except a piece of paper that lists some items."

The judge responded: "Mr. Parsonage, I have your point. I am somewhat sympathetic to your position but I am, quite frankly, absolutely disgusted with the actions of these two individuals who know better and acted like absolutely — well, I can't say it. But that is the punishment that they should suffer."

We have posted his reasons for sentencing on our website. We'll let you know if Campbell and Wilson decide to appeal the restitution order.

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