Criminal Acts During Flight

Two recent Canadian criminal court rulings considered charges resulting from the conduct of passengers aboard international commercial flights that landed in Canada.

These rulings confirm the jurisdiction of Canadian authorities to prosecute those who, during a flight that terminates in Canada, commit acts that would be considered a criminal offence under Canadian law.

On April 27, 2011, Michele Jules Ego (a 73 year old tourist from the French island Réunion) was charged under the Aeronautics Act for using an electronic device without permission and failing to comply with flight crew instructions. Mr Ego, a licensed pilot and retired mathematics professor, was using his GPS system on a flight from Minneapolis to Winnipeg.  He also refused to buckle his seat belt when ordered to do so by the flight crew.

Section 602.08 of the Canadian Aviation Regulations states that a portable electronic device shall not be used if it may impair the functioning of the aircraft’s systems or equipment and that portable electronic devices can only be used with the permission of the operator of the aircraft.

While it is arguable as to whether a portable GPS unit would interfere with the systems or equipment of an aircraft, Mr. Ego did not have the permission of the operator to use the device.  He pled guilty and was fined $250.

On August 15, 2009, Mr. Patrick Minot (a French electronics engineer and entrepreneur) was traveling from Paris, France to Boston, Mass. on an American Airlines aircraft.  During the flight, Mr. Minot was observed using two “weird devices”, one of which he had attached to the interior wall of the aircraft with a putty-like substance.  The flight crew confiscated the devices, his cell phone, his GPS device and his laptop, which he had turned on in defiance of instructions from a flight attendant.

The flight was then diverted to Gander, Newfoundland, and police officers met Mr. Minot on arrival.  He was arrested and charged with mischief under the Criminal Code and interference under the Aeronautics Act.  Mr. Minot pled guilty and was convicted and sentenced to time served (3 days), a restitution order of $22,000 (payable to American Airlines) and a fine of $10,000.

Mr. Minot then appealed his conviction to the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal, and raised a number of somewhat technical arguments.

Section 7(7) of the Criminal Code requires the Attorney General (the “AG”) to consent to the continuation of proceedings within eight days of their commencement in situations where the accused is not a Canadian citizen.  Since no evidence was tendered at trial by the Crown proving that the AG had consented, Mr. Minot argued that the Court had no jurisdiction over him or his offences.  The Court ruled that jurisdiction is presumed until it is challenged.  Mr. Minot had not challenged jurisdiction at trial.  However, the Court accepted new evidence on appeal, since jurisdiction was now being challenged.  The Crown presented evidence of the AG’s consent, and this ground of appeal was dismissed.

Mr. Minot also argued that the flight “terminated” in Boston, not Gander, and therefore the Court did not have jurisdiction.  The Court ruled that the flight “terminated” once it landed in Gander and opened a door for Mr. Minot to disembark.  This was enough to constitute termination under the Criminal Code.

Accordingly, the Court dismissed Mr. Minot’s appeal and upheld the convictions. Click here to see the decision.

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