Transport Canada probes beef laid by fired employee

Air Inuit head says former employee already threatened airline



Transport Canada is looking into a complaint made by a recently dismissed Air Inuit employee who alleges that his former employer endangered his life on a recent charter flight to a fishing lodge.

Mike Shields, 41, a former Air Inuit employee who lives in Kuujjuaraapik, lodged the complaint soon after Air Inuit fired him in late August.

For that reason, Jean Dupuis, Air Inuit’s director of operations, said he’s “not surprised” at the allegations.

He said Air Inuit dismissed Shields from his job in late August, after Shields was charged with drug trafficking following a police raid. At the time, Shields was already under suspension for “performance issues,” Dupuis said.

Dupuis explained that Air Inuit, which is owned by the Inuit of Nunavik, is under constant pressure from people in Nunavik communities who don’t want the airline used as a conduit for drug trafficking in the region.

He said that’s why they dismissed Shields immediately after learning about the drug charges, rather than wait until the charges have been proven in court.

Soon after the dismissal, Dupuis said Shields left a message on his answering machine threatening to make a safety-related complaint against Air Inuit.

Sheilds’ version of the story is that he is “lucky to be alive” after looking out the window of a Twin Otter that brought him and other passengers to a hunting and fishing camp outside his community earlier this month.

Eight passengers were on their way for meetings with staff, and a week of hunting and fishing.

He said he could hardly see anything because the evening fog was so thick, but Shields said “his heart jumped” when he saw a shadow form underneath the left wing.

Shields said shortly after the shadow emerged, they saw smooth lake water inches away. Then, for about 10 metres, the wing dragged through the water.

“We saw it with our very own eyes,” Shields said after the flight, which took place Sept. 6. “It was foggy and they tried to land anyway. They almost killed us. I’ve never been that close to death before.”

Shields alleges the pilot denied noticing anything, and he also alleges that the pilot told them not to mention the incident to anyone. They returned to Kuujjuaraapik, and made the trip the next day in sunny weather.

Francois-Nicolas Asselin, the regional spokesman for Transport Canada, said the department has launched an investigation, saying they take any complaints “very seriously.”

But Asselin said investigators will only treat the incident as a “possibility” until they confirm the facts.

“Until we have a full confirmation of all the facts, we will consider it a possibility,” Asselin said.

Shields said the pilot might have been trying to land because another plane reached the camp, Nunami Outfitters on Lake Mollet, only two hours earlier.

“I don’t think they should be risking people’s lives like that,” he said. “There’s a fine line between good service and killing people.”

Dupuis, said, however, that Air Inuit has an excellent safety record, and that company policies place a high priority on customer safety.

“It’s not our policy to make the customers scared,” Dupuis said.

With files from Jim Bell.

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