The government's oversight of Canadian aviation has come under intense scrutiny this week, as the concerns of industry critics and whistleblowers were aired in the media.
Two investigative reports dealt body blows to the repeated reassurances about safety that have been given by Transport Canada and by Transport Minister John Baird.
The Fifth Estate
The first blow was the Fifth Estate documentary "Riding On Risk", an investigation of several cases that exemplify the government's lax oversight of the industry. The broadcast featured air safety campaigner Kirsten Stevens and whistleblower Hugh Danford, as well as several participants in the Air Safety Roundtable: whistleblowers Ian Bron, Kevin Gauther and Kirsten Brazier; and Greg Holbrook, former National Chairman of the Canadian Federal Pilots Association.
Some memorable quotes:
- "Whistleblower protection under the federal legislation is a joke and everybody knows it. I would be crucified by the federal government and I’d never get employment anywhere... My life would be ripped apart." – A Transport Canada inspector who has complained internally about air safety violations, right up to the Prime Minister, but is too frightened to speak out publicly.
- "We cannot say anything about the issues surrounding this event except what is on the public record" – Sam Garito's union representative explains why the security inspector can say virtually nothing on camera. Garito's diligence as an inspector exposed the ineffectiveness of baggage screening in Pearson airport. He was charged with weapons offences and had to spend his savings on legal fees to prove his innocence. His settlement with the government includes a gag order so that he can say nothing about what actually happened.
- "I’m the minister at Treasury Board who brought in whistleblower protection. You know.. the buck stops here… we do everything we reasonably can to keep airports safe.” – Transport Minister John Baird, who told the senate in 2006 that his legislation was the "Mount Everest" of whistleblower protection. See David Hutton's comment on why Mr. Baird has no reason to boast about this.
Watch the full documentary on CBC's website: Riding on Risk
The second blow was a 9-page exposé in the Walrus, which lays out clearly the story of how the government, apparently in an attempt to save money and avoid liability, has progressively handed over its oversight responsibilities to industry. The author, Carol Shaben, has good reason to be interested in air safety: her father, cabinet minister Larry Shaben was one of three survivors of a 1984 plane crash that killed six people, including Alberta NDP leader Grant Notley.
Some memorable quotes:
- "This is an absolute fabrication"– Justice Virgil Moshansky, the internationally-respected aviation authority, commenting on Transport Canada's claim that its implementation of Safety Management Systems (SMS) adds "another layer of safety". Moshansky, a long-time pilot himself, is the judge who conducted an extensive public inquiry into Canada's aviation system following the 1989 crash of an Air Ontario jet near Dryden, Ontario. His landmark 1,712-page report called for numerous changes and vaulted Canada into the forefront of air safety: a position which he believes has since been severe eroded.
- "I run into burning buildings now, and I think my new career is much safer" – former air-taxi-service pilot Erik Vogel, reflecting on his new career as a firefighter. Vogel, a rookie pilot at the time, was pressured into flying into dangerous weather conditions in an aircraft with serious known defects, leading to a crash that killed six passengers. Vogel believed that he had to fly or lose his job: thirty-three pilots had quit or been fired by his employer during the previous year.
- "Transport Canada lied to Parliament" – Hugh Danford, a former safety inspector, commenting on Transport Canada's claim that a $690,000 report commissioned from consulting firm DMR was a comprehensive review of the department's safety oversight program, which had been found to be wanting. In other words, Transport Canada misled lawmakers by telling them that it was addressing the known problems in its oversight system.
Read the complete article: Fly At Your Own Risk
FAIR (Federal Accountability Initiative for Reform)