Shutterstock / Kamenetskiy Konstantin
OTTAWA — Major Canadian airlines say they're unfairly shouldering the costs of removing from Canada people who arrive with a passport or other valid document only to be turned away by federal officials. There are "numerous scenarios" in which air carriers must pay the tab for returning such inadmissible arrivals to their home country, Air Canada says in a submission to a federal review panel studying transportation policy. These cases may involve people who arrive with proper documentation but are barred by Canadian authorities because they have a criminal record — something the airline would have no way of knowing — or their refugee claim is denied. "In extreme cases, should the passenger become ill and be hospitalized before they leave Canada, carriers are even expected to pick up the medical bills," Air Canada says in its submission to the review of the Canada Transportation Act. The legislative review is looking at the state of the national transportation system, including the aviation sector's competitiveness, service to Canadians and ability to attract visitors. A panel led by former cabinet minister David Emerson is expected to deliver a report soon. In some cases, because of the frequently drawn-out nature of the refugee claims process, passengers may have lived in Canada for many years, and any return ticket they might have once had is no longer valid, Air Canada says. "These passengers are often violently opposed to leaving Canada and there are significant security costs involved in these deportations, all of which are borne by the airline. In some cases, Air Canada has had to lease private jets to repatriate particularly unco-operative cases."
"These passengers are often violently opposed to leaving Canada."Any relationship that once existed between the passenger and the airline — in many cases decades ago with a predecessor company — is long lost, says Air Canada. "The passenger is either unwilling or unable to pay. It is simply unfair to make airlines responsible for these costs, when the passenger had the required documents to travel to Canada and the passenger themselves tried to circumvent Canada's immigration programs." When a Canadian airline transports someone abroad who is ruled inadmissible in the destination country, the airline must return the passenger to Canada or to a place where the person is admissible, such as their home country. In cases where the person is immediately turned away, heads back to Canada and is denied entry, the Canada Border Services Agency issues a penalty of $3,200 to the air carrier. "The airline then also becomes responsible for all costs associated with returning the passenger to the country of his or her nationality," Air Canada says. The penalty can be appealed, but the process amounts to an administrative burden for airlines, the carrier says. In cases where passengers are turned away from Canada despite having valid travel documentation, the Canadian government should bear the cost of returning the passenger — subject to possible reimbursement from the traveller, Air Canada recommends to the panel. Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said the airline had nothing to add to its submission. The National Airlines Council of Canada, which represents Air Canada and three other large Canadian carriers, said in a statement that in such cases "the airline should not be asked to pay for the removal of the passenger." The council added that implementation of this principle should be easier in future given pending modernization of the way passenger information will be transmitted, since it will involve the government giving an airline a green-light decision to board a traveller prior to departure. Canada Border Services Agency spokeswoman Esme Bailey declined to make anyone available for an interview.