Halton woman alleging sexual assault on flight says Air Canada failed to call police

Halton woman alleging sexual assault on flight says Air Canada failed to call police

A Halton woman says Air Canada staff failed to contact police after she was sexually assaulted on a flight from Tampa, Florida to Toronto last Tuesday.

The 64-year-old woman, who CBC has agreed not to identify, said her seatmate assaulted her within the first few minutes of the evening flight, rubbing her legs and trying to grab her breasts.

She said she then approached a group of flight attendants and reported what happened, asking to be moved and telling them, "I want you to inform the captain… I'm not going back to that seat."

After insisting, she said, the flight attendants gave her a new seat — two rows behind her previous one.

"I could still see [him], and he kept turning around and looking the whole flight where I went. I was getting pretty nervous thinking about getting off," she said. 

She said she also saw a flight attendant serve the man at least one alcoholic beverage, though she had told the flight attendants in the galley that she believed he might be drunk.

Air Canada spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick told CBC Toronto by email that the woman did not communicate that she had been sexually assaulted to flight attendants, only that she was uncomfortable.

"The customer was relocated," he wrote. "We did check on her during the flight and ask if more was required and she indicated no further action was necessary on our part."

Certain she made herself clear

The woman, who says she worked as a flight attendant when she was young, is certain she made herself clear.

"I said to the [flight attendants] at least two times, 'You are going to tell the captain aren't you?' But when I got off that plane, and there was no police there, I knew there was no way they would have told the captain because the captain would have had to speak to me to write a report."

In the two days following the flight, she contacted Peel police, who have launched an investigation into the incident. 

She also sent a complaint to Air Canada, and has since received a response apologizing for the incident and telling her she reacted in an "appropriate" manner by contacting police herself. 

Air Canada declines to disclose internal sexual assault policy

Peter Fitzpatrick of Air Canada declined to release the airline's internal sexual assault policy, citing "privacy, competitive, security and other reasons."

As for their general procedure, he wrote: "Once we are made aware that a sexual assault has occurred we will move passengers and contact the authorities."

He also confirmed that flight attendants are trained to respond to sexual assault complaints.

CBC News has reported on Air Canada's handling of sexual assault complaints on flights in the past.

In 2015, a Saint John woman who was groped on an Air Canada flight complained that the airplane staff she told about the incident failed to do anything beyond moving her from her seat.

In another 2015 incident, an Ontario woman said she watched a man touch a sleeping teenager on a flight. Though the captain was notified and police were called in that instance, she said flight attendants seemed ill-prepared to deal with it. 

Air-passenger rights advocate Gabor Lukacs, who was contacted by the Halton woman for help following Tuesday's incident, said he's "not buying" Air Canada's response to CBC Toronto. 

"This is not the first time that a passenger is complaining to a crew about being sexually assaulted and the crew fails to report it. This happened in 2015, and now it is just happening again," he said.  

The consumer advocate said he'd like to see more accountability from Air Canada. 

"Obviously this is not something that airlines want their names to be associated with, and the easiest ways to avoid such issues is just by not reporting it. I'm deeply troubled by this."

As for the Halton woman, she'd like to see the man she says assaulted her banned from the airline. 

"I was assaulted, They obviously didn't follow protocol, so they're not that concerned about passenger safety," she told CBC Toronto.

"They continued to serve this gentleman alcohol after I told them that he was drunk and had assaulted me. And they let me walk off that plane all alone. I'm just blown away."