MONTREAL — Passengers and advocates say Air Canada is giving them the runaround on refunds, compensation and reasons cited for flight delays and cancellations — including a case of harsh weather cited two weeks before it struck.
Despite thousands of scrapped flights and late arrivals, customers are struggling to file successful complaints or learn the nuances of complex regulations amid the overwhelming surge in summer travel.
The country’s largest carrier informed some passengers their flight to Lisbon would be delayed due to “bad weather,” 12 days before it was even slated to leave Montreal on July 17.
Another traveller recently received a $60 “eCoupon” due to a days-long baggage delay rather than the direct refund she’s entitled to under both federal rules and Air Canada’s passenger-carrier contract.
“It’d be great if I could get that money back rather than a coupon. Especially since I am still without my bag and fronting interim expenses,” said Air Canada Rouge passenger Leanna Durdle.
On Tuesday the airline cancelled a flight from Nashville to Toronto citing a “technical issue.” But data on tracking service Flightradar24 shows the same plane that was scheduled to fly into Nashville for the trip instead took off for Boston an hour after the original departure time, despite the stated mechanical problem.
Liam Walshe, a paralegal who advocates for consumer protection, called the reasons cited “questionable” and “suspect.” Mechanical malfunctions do not qualify as within the carrier’s control and thus exempt it from having to compensate customers, he noted.
“I was pretty shocked with what I was seeing,” he said.
“How would they say it’s for maintenance and then an hour later the aircraft flies to Boston instead? Why wouldn’t they just delay the Nashville flight slightly?”
Walshe said that taken together, the myriad instances of “technical” or “maintenance” issues along with travel vouchers rather than reimbursement create an appearance of trying to avoid “having to pay out.”
“People have been submitting claims and they’ve been getting denied,” he said. “You’ll see all kinds of people saying that there’s inconsistent reasons.”
Air Canada said in an email the weather explanation on the Lisbon flight was “an incorrect notification” that has since been revised.
“Air Canada fully appreciates the disappointment and inconvenience schedule changes cause customers, and does its utmost to mitigate these regrettable situations,” the airline said in a statement.
It notes travellers can request a refund in the original form of payment, and says it will pay additional compensation where “due” under the passenger rights charter.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 7, 2022.
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Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press
HIV spike among B.C. drug users associated with COVID-19 lockdown, research says
By Brieanna Charlebois in Vancouver
A new study says reduced access to HIV services during early COVID-19 lockdowns in British Columbia was associated with a “sharp increase” in HIV transmission among some drug users.
The study by University of British Columbia researchers says that while reduced social interaction during the March-May 2020 lockdown worked to reduce HIV transmission, that may not have “outweighed” the increase caused by reduced access to services.
The study, published in Lancet Regional Health, found that fewer people started HIV antiretroviral therapy or undertook viral load testing under lockdown, while visits to overdose prevention services and safe consumption sites also decreased.
The overall number of new HIV diagnoses in B.C. continues a decades-long decline.
But Dr. Jeffrey Joy, lead author of the report published on Friday, said he found a “surprising” spike in transmission among some drug users during lockdown.
Joy said transmission rates for such people had previously been fairly stable for about a decade.
“That’s because there’s been really good penetration of treatment and prevention services into those populations,” he said in an interview.
B.C. was a global leader in epidemic monitoring, which means the results are likely applicable elsewhere, Joy said.
“We are uniquely positioned to find these things,” he said. “The reason that I thought it was important to do this study and get it out there is (because) it’s probably happening everywhere, but other places don’t monitor their HIV epidemic in the same way that we do.”
Rachel Miller, a co-author of the report, said health authorities need to consider innovative solutions so the measures “put in place to address one health crisis don’t inadvertently exacerbate another.”
“These services are the front-line defence in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Many of them faced disruptions, closures, capacity limits and other challenges,” Miller said in a news release.
“Maintaining access and engagement with HIV services is absolutely essential to preventing regression in epidemic control and unnecessary harm.”
The Health Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Researchers said the spike among “select groups” could be attributed to a combination of factors, including housing instability and diminished trust, increasing barriers for many people who normally receive HIV services.
British Columbia is set to become the first province in Canada to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of hard drugs in January, after receiving a temporary federal exemption in May.
Joy said this decision, alongside measures like safe supply and safe needle exchanges, will make a difference preventing similar issues in the future.
“The take-home message here is, in times of crisis and public health emergency or other crises, we need to support those really vulnerable populations more, not less,” he said.
“Minimally, we need to give them continuity and the access to their services that they depend on. Otherwise, it just leads to problems that can have long, long-term consequences.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 24, 2022.
Tragedies unite Humboldt Broncos mom and James Smith Cree Nation artist
By Mickey Djuric in Regina
Celeste Leray-Leicht received many condolence gifts after the Humboldt Broncos bus crash that claimed the life of her son, but it was a beaded green and yellow ribbon with a white heart that stood out.
Leray-Leicht wore it for years after her son Jacob Leicht died. It now lives on her vehicle’s visor, next to a photo of her children when they were little, alongside a poppy.
She always felt a connection to the beaded ribbon because of the heart.
“My son Jacob, he was a Valentine baby, so I’m drawn to hearts,” Leray-Leicht said from her home in Humboldt, Sask., east of Saskatoon.
On April 6, 2018, near Tisdale, Sask., 16 people were killed and 13 were injured when an inexperienced truck driver ran a stop sign, crashing into a bus that was taking the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team to a playoff game.
Leray-Leicht’s son played with the Broncos and was 19 when he died in the crash.
She never knew who gifted her the beaded pin, but she found out when she headed out to James Smith Cree Nation, northeast of Saskatoon, to drop off food and other donations earlier this month.
Bernard Constant Community School on the reserve has become a gathering hub after a stabbing rampage on Sept. 4 that killed 10 people, nine of whom were James Smith Cree Nation members. Eighteen others were injured. Both suspects have died.
The school is where funerals and wakes were held, where volunteers continue to cook throughout the day to keep members fed as they recover. It’s also where people come to pray.
On Sept. 11, it became the place where two women, dealing with devastating loss, came face to face for the first time.
While in the school’s gym, Leray-Leicht met Lissa Bear, who is a member of James Smith Cree Nation, and has been grieving alongside her community.
She’s also the Indigenous artist who anonymously gifted her the beaded ribbon that had always reminded Leray-Leicht of Jacob.
To Leray-Leicht’s surprise, Bear had approached her saying she had sent her the pin years ago.
“And I said ‘I just looked at that pin half an hour ago,” Leray-Leicht said. “We were kindred spirits. We instantly hit it off.”
Leray-Leicht said it was remarkable to meet Bear, despite the tragedies that unite them.
“I think God is in the details and I don’t really believe in coincidences too much. I think we’ll become good friends,” said Leray-Leicht. “It was just so special to me.”
Bear declined to comment, but gave consent to Leray-Leicht to share the story.
Humboldt and James Smith Cree Nation are 125 kilometres apart, but are connected through their grief.
Since the mass stabbing, families from Humboldt have silently attended funerals, donated food and offered support to people in the Indigenous community.
“As adults and leaders in the community, it’s our responsibility to try and find as many supports as we can for our youth and for our adults without reliving the trauma over and over again,” Leray-Leicht said.
Students in Humboldt wrote messages of hope on hearts for James Smith Cree Nation, something a nearby community did for them in 2018 after the bus crash.
At a vigil in Humboldt on Sept. 14, the hearts were placed in baskets alongside chocolate Hershey hugs, and were given to James Smith Cree Nation Chief Wally Burns. They asked him to pass them along to the youth of his community.
“When asked ‘what do you need?’ and they say prayers, I can relate,” said Leray-Leicht, who helped plan the vigil. “That’s all I remember thinking — ‘That’s what we needed, too.’ Prayers to lift us up to survive this devastating loss.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 24, 2022.
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