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Passengers behaving badly: Hon. Helena Guergis, PC, MP

Helen Guergis (right), Minister of state for Status of Women, stands beside Lisa Raitt, Minister of Natural Resources, as they take part in a Walk For The Cure event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Sept. 17, 2009. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

On February 19th, junior minister Helena Guergis lost her cool after she arrived late for her flight, and was directed through the usual gamut of security screenings.  She proceeded to throw a tantrum, treating security screeners and airline personnel in an abrasive manner that would have had her barred from the flight, if she were anything other than a Minister of the Crown.  The details were unveiled in an anonymous fax sent to Prince Edward Island MP Wayne Easter (Liberal-Malpeque).

(I apologise in advance for quoting its entirety, but the letter ought to be read to be fully grasped.  No media account I have seen thus far manages to convey all of the details as soberly as the original author does.)

On February 19th at the Charlottetown Airport, Air Canada Jazz staff was informed via telephone that a certain “V.I.P.” would be late arriving for Air Canada Flight #7677 to Montreal.  The flight was scheduled to be in the air at 1725hrs with a flight load of thirty two passengers.

At 1720 hrs thirty of the thirty two passengers had already boarded the plane.  The two remaining passengers, Conservative MP and Minister of State for the Status of Women Hon. Helena Guergis and her aide Emily Goucher were at the Air Canada counter being so difficult and rude to Air Canada representative Alan Bagley that he almost refused to allow them to board to spite their “V.I.P.” status.  They berated him loudly and treated him in a most condescending manner after he told them some of their excessive bags were too large to be carry-on and should be checked.  At one point the Hon. Helena Guergis told Mr. Bagley that she “….knew Ron McKinley”. Apparently she wasn’t aware that as Minister of Transportation Mr. McKinley was not in charge of carry-on baggage, more’s the pity.

At 1720 hrs. inside the preboard screening area, five minutes before the time when the flight was scheduled to be in the air, Air Canada representative Sonja MacMillan paged both Hon. Helena Guergis and Ms. Goucher over the P.A. and after having waited considerably for them already, proceeded to the aircraft with her paperwork.

At 1725 hrs., flight time, Hon. Helena Guergis and Ms. Goucher started into the preboard area to be screened by the security staff.  When asked to remove her overcoat she compiled, but refused to remove her blazer, and when informed that her footwear might set off the walk through metal detector, she refused to remove them as well.  After proceeding through the metal detector, she alarmed it and was screened by Screening Officer Melissa Murnaghan.  She was asked to sit down and remove her footwear at this point due to the fact that they had caused the alarm.  At this point the Hon. Helena Guergis took a seat and huffily started to remove her footwear, upon their removal she slammed her boots into the bin provided by Ms. Murnaghan and then the Minister of State for the Status of Women said to Ms. Murnaghan, a single mother working to support herself and her son, “Happy Fucking Birthday to me!  I guess I’m stuck on this hell hole!”  Ms. Murnaghan, in a credit to her professionalism, did not reply to this comment, nor did the other screening staff on duty; Donald Wood, John Birt, Andrew MacEwan, Wanda Chinery, or Andrew Williams.  Ms. Murnaghan then put the footwear through the X-ray machine.

As the footwear cleared the X-ray conveyor, Hon. Helena Guergis then shouted at her aide Ms. Goucher to “Get those for me! I’m not walking around here in sock feet!.”

Having then cleared mandatory security screening without further incident, and having been handed her boots by her personal servant Ms. Goucher, Hon. Helena Guergis then attempted to force open the locked door that separates the preboard seating area from the apron, upon which Air Canada flight #7677 continued to wait.  Screening Officer MacEwan, closest to her, informed her that the door was indeed locked and that she would have to wait for the Air Canada representative (Sonja MacMillan) to return.  Hon. Helena Guergis then shouted across preboard to Mr. MacEwan “Well, can’t you call her or something!?”  Mr. MacEwan replied that no, he had no way of contacting the Air Canada representative while she was airside and that she would have to wait.  He also told her that passengers were normally requested to be at the airport at least two hours before flight time.  The Hon. Helena Guergis then shouted back across preboard to Mr. MacEwan “I don’t need to be lectured about flight time by you! I’ve been down here working my ass off for you people.”  Taken aback by this unnecessarily venomous response, Mr. MacEwan decided to end the conversation on his part.

Hon. Helena Guergis and her aide Ms. Goucher then decided that the best course of action would be to go to the eastern end of the preboard screening area and attempt to get Ms. MacMillan’s attention by screaming and hammering on the sound proof tinted glass that separates preboard from airside.

At this point, Sonja MacMillan returned from the plane, and being unaware of the commotion caused by the Hon. Helena Guergis and her aide Ms. Goucher, she processed them without further incident and allowed them to board Air Canada Flight #7677 to Montreal.  As they were being processed and allowed to board, Air Canada representative Alan Bagley entered preboard to see what the yelling he had heard way out at the counter was about.  Screening Officer Andrew Williams, during a security sweep of preboard, discovered two passports and tickets belonging to Ms. Goucher and Hon. Helena Guergis and gave them to Mr. Bagley who then returned them to Ms. Goucher and the Hon. Helena Guergis as they were finally headed towards their flight.

It is most unlikely anyone involved in this incident will be able to give statements or interviews “on the record”.

Due to the likely termination of current employment; Anonymous

— Anonymous letter to MP Wayne Easter.  Attached to report by O’Malley, Kady. “Helena Guergis’s Adventures on Prince Edward Island.” CBC News, 25 February 2010.

Mrs. Guergis has since realised what poison this is for her reputation, and apologised to Air Canada staff in particular and the people of PEI in general.  Take note that in her apology and public statements, she has not contested the details of the account.  Opposition MPs and assorted outraged citizens are calling upon Mrs. Guergis to resign, while the Prime Minister has said that he is satisfied with her apology, and that ends the matter.  Knowing the Prime Minister, however, I am sure the matter is not ended; he remembers it when people fail spectacularly—hello, Maxime Bernier!  No doubt the PM will recall this incident at the next Cabinet shuffle, and out will go Mrs. Guergis.

I’m not particularly upset over her behaviour unbecoming a minister, as it is a role with almost no substance whatsoever.  Before being granted the “Minister” nomenclature, it was known as Secretary of State (Status of Women), and the office-holder was in essence a glorified Parliamentary Secretary—neither sitting in Cabinet nor being a member of the Cabinet’s real centre of gravity, the far more influential Treasury Board.  This so-called “junior minister” portfolio carries with it the whopping bureaucracy of three staff, and no executive authority beyond that of a normal MP.  And as we have seen, it doesn’t even exempt one from having to go through the same meaningless security theatre as the plebs.

I understand that people will lose their cool every now and then; this is human nature.  But neither do I condone an absence of consequences.  If the Hon. Helena Guergis were an ordinary citizen, she would have been bounced from her flight, possibly detained by airport security, and (if they had any sense at all) informed by Air Canada that her business was no longer welcome, and they would be refusing any subsequent bookings by her.  Alas, the time for the first has passed, although there may still be time to file petty charges and have the airline declare her persona non grata.

If I were the Prime Minister, however, I would make it clear that Mrs. Guergis would indeed keep her job, but since she could not be relied upon to conduct herself appropriately at an airport, she must be relieved of the burden of going through airport security screening.  For the remainder of the government’s term of office, therefore, she would be placed on Transport Canada’s Specified Persons List and prohibited from setting foot aboard any kind of aircraft, civil or military.  In order to travel to her engagements, Mrs. Guergis could enjoy the leisurely pace of the railroad or—to go where the rails do not—Greyhound bus.

I’m sure my approval rating would skyrocket overnight.

But alas, I cannot think of any Prime Minister of the Dominion who would ever have the guts to do it.

Ne probrum castis, labem integris, infamiam bonis inferat

Lest he should defame the good, reproach the chaste, and disgrace the honest

The commanding officer of 8 Wing, CFB Trenton—Colonel D. Russell Williams, CD—faces a plethora of criminal charges related to the deaths of two women and the sexual assaults of two others.  On Monday, Ontario Provincial Police charged Colonel Williams, 46, with two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of forcible confinement, two counts of breaking and entering and two counts of sexual assault.

8 Wing is undoubtedly the busiest air wing in the Canadian Forces.  Its sub-units are responsible for search and rescue, VIP transport, strategic and tactical airlift,  and aerial refueling.  It is literally the linchpin of of air mobility for the entire Canadian Forces.  There are other wings with airlift (and SAR) components, certainly, but no other wing encompasses the CF’s entire range of air mobility missions and platforms.

The colonel has been removed from his command while the investigation proceeds; according to this Belleville Intelligencer report, many base personnel learned of their boss’ arrest like everyone else—through media reports.  No doubt townspeople in the Quinte area are shocked and dismayed as well.  CFB Trenton enjoys an enviable relationship with the civil communities near the base; the facility and its personnel are almost always mentioned favourably in local media outlets.

I’m glad to see Trenton’s mayor, John Williams—who was in touch with Col. Williams frequently—reinforcing his support for the base with a message of reassurance:

“Put it this way, our community and CFB Trenton are interwoven. I know he’s innocent until proven guilty, but nonetheless this is unbelievable. It’s shocking,” said Williams. “I feel for the base personnel and I want them to know the arrest does not change the city’s relationship with the base.

— Kuglin, Ernst and Emily Mountenay.  “Trenton in shock after base commander charged with two counts of first degree murder.” Belleville Intelligencer, 8 February 2010. [Emphasis mine]

If the charges are accurate, Colonel Williams has violated not just the public’s trust in its armed forces, but the enlisted force’s trust in its officer leadership.  Raping and slaying one of the non-commissioned personnel he was charged to keep “in good Order and Discipline” goes against every core tenet of the officer corps—self-sacrifice, loyalty, knowledge, integrity and courage.

In light of the incalculable damage caused in the lives of four young women, the morale of the men and women under his command, and the public trust in its uniformed personnel, whatever sentence such an officer ends up receiving—no matter how severe—will not be nearly enough.  It is a dereliction of staggering proportions.

RELATED: An interesting clue at the end of this CityNews story:

“Williams became brought to the attention of police as a result of information gathered during a roadside canvas on highway 37 on the night of Feb. 4,” revealed Det. Insp. Chris Nicholas.

— CityNews.ca staff.  “Missing Belleville Woman Found Dead, CFB Trenton Commander Charged.” CityNews.ca, 8 February 2010.

UPDATE 091048Z FEB 10: TheSpec.com provides some elaboration (although not much) from OPP Detective Inspector Chris Nicholas:

The charges came “due to a singularity in those incidents,” Nicholas said. “We linked those crimes to a single suspect.”

— Black, Debra, Lesley Ciarula Taylor, and Jesse McLean.  “CFB Trenton chief accused of killing two women.” TheSpec.com, 8 February 2010.

UPDATE 091911Z FEB 10: The singularity was the colonel’s unique tire tracks.

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Passengers behaving badly: Miss Clare Irby

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Unlike the male codfish, which, suddenly finding itself the parent of three million five hundred thousand little codfish, cheerfully resolves to love them all, the British aristocracy is apt to look with a somewhat jaundiced eye on its younger sons.

— Wodehouse, P.G. Heavy Weather.  London:  Herbert Jenkins, 1933.

That prejudicial view is well-founded, apparently.  Once upon a time the plutocrats took it upon themselves to be decorous in public; those days are long past.

On March 26th Miss Irby, a descendant of the well-known Guinness clan, was a passenger aboard Kingfisher Airlines Flight 001, an Airbus A330-200 flying from Bombay to London.  She is alleged to have become drunk, publicly amorous with a fellow passenger (who was travelling with his girlfriend), and ignored her crying child, whose diapers had to be changed by the cabin crew.  The fellow’s girlfriend woke up, saw Ms. Irby and her boyfriend canoodling, and freaked out, causing the flight crew to request the Metropolitan Police attend the aircraft’s arrival.

Shivaneji Sharma, a flight attendant, told the jury Miss Irby had drunk three to four glasses of wine in the first 90 minutes of the flight and added: “Her speech was slurred. She was asking for more and more red wine.

“She had absolutely no clue about the child and the way she was behaving was not tipsy, but drunk.”

[Prosecutor Mr. Bill] McGivern said that at one point Miss Irby took off her skirt, revealing her black G-string, before changing into a pair of leggings in her seat in row 26 near the back of the aircraft.

…[Flight attendant Ms. Arpita Mehra] said: “She was travelling with her kid and she was not in a state that could take care of her child.

“The child was all on his own and was crying in the cabin. She was busy with the guest sitting behind her.

“They were having a conversation and getting personal with each other and the child was crying.

“The man was leaning forward and grabbing hold of her breast and they were kissing each other.”

…Saloni Khanna, director of the crew on flight number IT001, said that at one point she saw Miss Irby sprawled across four seats and added: “Her skirt had risen up to the waist and her underpants were visible. The child had dirtied his diapers and she wasn’t aware. I told the crew to take care of the child. “

After four hours the captain ordered his staff to refuse to serve any more alcohol to Miss Irby.

…Cabin crew director Saloni Khanna said Miss Irby stuck up her middle finger at her. [Defence counsel] Mr Saunders suggested she had just waved her hand, which she rejected.

The prosecutor said Miss Irby repeatedly pushed the button to call members of staff, and at one stage called one of them a “bitch”.

Miss Irby was arrested when the flight landed. A police officer believed that she was still drunk when he attended, the jury heard.

— Rayner, Gordon.  “Drunken socialite ‘stripped to her knickers and cavorted with fellow passenger’ on flight.”  Daily Telegraph, 14 September 2009.

Dirty diapers flung about the cabin?  Screaming child left unattended?  Passengers might be willing to forgive two drunken idiots trying to get it on, but awkwardly getting it on while your kid roams the aisles emitting high-pitched shrieks and visible stink rays?  She’s bloody well lucky to be alive, let alone charged and in custody.

UPDATE: Bystander at The Magistrate’s Blog notes that Miss Irby has been acquitted by a UK court, on the technicality that her moronic drunken behaviour occurred aboard an Indian-registered aircraft outside of UK airspace, thus it lacked jurisdiction.

Canadian Pacific Airlines Flight 108

Canadian Pacific Airlines Douglas DC-3 CF-CUA photographed at Bagotville, Quebec by Guy Allard; August 1947.  (Jacques Trempe collection | 1000aircraftphotos.com)

Canadian Pacific Airlines Douglas DC-3A-360/C-47 (CF-CUA c/n 4518) photographed at Bagotville, Quebec by Guy Allard; August 1947. (Jacques Trempe collection | 1000aircraftphotos.com)

This aircraft, along with its 19 passengers and 4 crew, was destroyed sixty years ago today by an explosive device placed in the No. 1 forward baggage hold.  The explosive was crude but effective; several sticks of dynamite with an alarm clock as timer.  It had been set to detonate while the aircraft was over the St. Lawrence River—rendering accident investigation difficult given the methods of the time—but a 5-minute delay leaving Québec City left the aircraft over dry land when it exploded.  It was the world’s third—and deadliest—act of airline terrorism.

The perpetrator was 32-year-old Joseph-Albert Guay, a watch and jewellry salesman with a faltering business and faltering marriage.  His relationship with his wife, 28-year-old Rita Morel, was stormy at best; eventually she and their 5-year-old daughter moved back to her mother’s home.  Divorce was rare in 1940s Québec, or so we are told.  Guay, meanwhile, dated 17-year-old waitress Marie-Ange Robitaille; but she dumped him when she found out he was already married.  Guay then resolved to kill his wife, initially by poison, but then settled on an air tragedy instead; he took out a $10,000 travel insurance policy on Morel.

Lacking the skills to contruct the weapon himself, Guay asked clockmaker Généreux Ruest to build a timed explosive with dynamite, batteries and an alarm clock.  Ruest got his sister, Marguerite Pitre, to buy the dynamite from a hardware store; she was also the one to deliver the disguised bomb (as air freight) to the aircraft on that fateful day.  Guay enticed his wife to make the trip by asking her to fly to Baie Comeau to pick up a box of jewellery on his behalf.

Flight 108 had originated in Montréal and made a brief stopover in Québec City, where Mrs. Morel boarded.  Mrs. Pitre arrived at the airfield via taxi, insisting that her suspiciously overweight package go aboard.  As the plane was already starting up, the clerk relented and rushed it aboard.  The aircraft left at 10:25 local time, and went down 20 minutes later near Sault-au-Cochon, 70 kilometres north of Québec City.

Investigation initially focused on the unidentified mystery shipper, who was later identified as Pitre.  When police began questioning her, Guay encouraged Pitre to take her own life, implying that she would be prime suspect and suffer the greatest punishment.  Pitre did make a botched attempt at suicide, and while recovering in hospital, confessed the details of the plot to police.

All three conspirators were found guilty and eventually executed for their crime.  Joseph-Albert Guay was hanged on Jan. 19, 1951 in the Bordeaux Jail, outside Montreal.  Généreux Ruest, who was crippled by tuberculosis and used a wheelchair, was hanged in July of 1952.  Pitre maintained her innocence and appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, but was ultimately unsuccessful.  She was the thirteenth and last woman executed in Canada, on January 9th, 1953.

Who is the bastard at the Canadian High Commission in Kenya, and why aren’t they arrested yet?

Another Canadian has been stranded in Kenya—a 25-year-old autistic man—for a leisurely three years.  Why?  Because some genius at the High Commission decided that he didn’t look like his passport photo, and he wasn’t acting sufficiently autistic.  Perhaps they thought his condition was insufficiently evocative of Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, the cinematic gold standard.

OTTAWA — An autistic Canadian man, stranded in Kenya for three years, will soon be allowed to come home, and his lawyer called Thursday for an inquiry into the government’s treatment of citizens stranded abroad.

Passport Canada will give 25-year-old Abdihakim Mohamed a one-way travel document, but not a passport, to return from the East African country.
Mohamed should be back in Canada within a month.
His mother, Anab Issa, had tried to bring him back to Canada from Kenya three years ago but she was told he didn’t look like his passport photo, and that he didn’t seem to be autistic.
On doctor’s advice, Issa had returned to East Africa with her son two years earlier to be closer to extended family to help his condition.
Mohamed’s case is strikingly similar to that of Suaad Hagi Mohamud, the 31-year-old Toronto woman, who gave tearful testimony in Ottawa on Wednesday about her recent three-month confinement in Kenya because Canadian diplomats deemed her an imposter because she did not look like her passport photo.

Passport Canada will give 25-year-old Abdihakim Mohamed a one-way travel document, but not a passport, to return from the East African country.

Mohamed should be back in Canada within a month.

His mother, Anab Issa, had tried to bring him back to Canada from Kenya three years ago but she was told he didn’t look like his passport photo, and that he didn’t seem to be autistic.

On doctor’s advice, Issa had returned to East Africa with her son two years earlier to be closer to extended family to help his condition.

Mohamed’s case is strikingly similar to that of Suaad Hagi Mohamud, the 31-year-old Toronto woman, who gave tearful testimony in Ottawa on Wednesday about her recent three-month confinement in Kenya because Canadian diplomats deemed her an imposter because she did not look like her passport photo.

— Blanchfield, Mike.  “Autistic Canadian stranded in Kenya coming home soon.”  Canwest News Service, 27 August 2009. [Emphasis mine]

Indeed.  Let’s hear what extensive investigation the High Commission mounted in order to determine the young man was insufficiently autistic.

Here’s what I think.  At best we have a misguided overly-picky security zealot in the High Commission, or at worst we have somebody who is an active participant in a shakedown scam involving Kenyan airport authorities, among others.  (Remember that in the Suaad Hagi Mohamud case, it was KLM staff who solicited a bribe and, being refused, threatened to have her displaced from her flight.)  My money is on a shakedown effort.  A bureaucrat in the Foreign Service should not be able to arbitrarily sever the ties between you and your country when you are innocent of any crime, guilty only of refusing to reward corruption.

The Canadian public needs a transparent accounting of the wrongdoings, not some internal report that will get buried.  Air the dirty laundry, clean out the High Commission in Kenya, and put those responsible behind bars for a few decades.  Defrauding Canadians of their citizenship, even in error, is no small matter.

Convicts: a renewable resource

You’re not really surprised, are you?

BEIJING–The majority of transplanted organs in China come from executed prisoners, state media reported Wednesday in a rare disclosure about the country’s problem of dubious organ donations.

Despite a 2007 regulation barring donations from people who are not related to or emotionally connected to the transplant patient, the China Daily newspaper said 65 per cent of organ donations come from death row.

It quoted Vice Health Minister Huang Jiefu as saying written consent is required from condemned prisoners but that they are “definitely not a proper source for organ transplants.”

…China has previously acknowledged that kidneys, livers, corneas and other organs were routinely removed from prisoners sentenced to death, but gave no figures to show how widespread the practice was.

— “Executions provide 65% of transplant organs in China.”  Associated Press (via Toronto Star), 25 August 2009.

Definitely not the proper source, but it’s the one we’ll use for now, though.

Also, it’s a bit rich to classify this scheme as organ donation.  When you’re harvesting organs from those condemned to death (and whose postmortem wishes are not really a consideration), the term is arrogation.

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The Conservative Progressive Party

Whose policies remain the same as they were 48 years ago.

  • The National Post’s Kelly McParland offers five very reasonable steps to save the NDP.  Unfortunately they will all be ignored, because Mr. McParland forgets that for the membership, these are not mere party policies.  They are a philosophy; a way of viewing the world.  If the membership actually believed in the things McParland recommends, they would already have joined the Liberals or Conservatives two or three decades ago.  So the retooling of the party will amount to a name change and not much else.
  • The NDP lobbies for former union boss Perley Holmes, convicted of drug trafficking in the United States in 2007, to serve the remainder of his sentence at home.  They conveniently leave out the organised crime connection which put Mr. Holmes in a position to move 136 pounds of coccaine at a time.  Wife, children and elderly mom back in B.C. cry brave tears and claim it’s hard having Dad so far away.  No kidding.  Perhaps he should have considered the possibility of going to jail in a foreign country before he tried to export drugs from it.  Maybe it’s also worth considering what 100 pounds of coke would do to your neighbourhood before getting all verklempt for this fella.

Dog finds coccaine in cake

coccaine-cakeA 64-year-old Toronto man was charged with importing a controlled substance after a CSBA detector dog at Pearson Airport located two kilograms of coccaine in a cake that he had brought back from Trinidad and Tobago. In his luggage.  I can see a couple of flaws in this plan already.

Isn’t sixty-four way too old to start being a drug mule?  You’ve only got a year to rise through the ranks of organised crime and attract some blue-haired moll before you have to retire.

Who packs a cake in their luggage?  I guess the guy hasn’t seen what some baggage handlers get up to.

And where’s the icing?  No wonder the dog had to pull it apart.  It’s not a real cake unless there’s icing.  Lots of it.

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Something about this just stinks

An alleged gang member gets shot in Jamaica (during a firefight in which another man died), then flies home to Canada for medical treatment.

Wouldn’t the Jamaican police want to, I dunno, interview the witness and see what he knows?  Especially since another fella at the same incident was, you know, murdered?

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