OTTAWA — Transport Minister Marc Garneau is closing Canadian skies to the Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft, effectively grounding the planes over safety concerns arising from the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines flight that killed everyone on board, including 18 Canadians.
The decision to ground the planes is a precautionary move that was made after a review of all the available evidence, Garneau told a news conference Wednesday in Ottawa that was twice delayed by what he called new incoming information.
“There are — and I hasten to say not conclusive — but there are similarities” between the Ethiopian Airlines flight profile and that of a Lion Air flight involving the same aircraft that crashed off the Indonesian coast in October, the minister said.
Those similarities, he said, “exceed a certain threshold in our minds with respect to the possible cause of what happened in Ethiopia. This is not conclusive, but it is something that points possibly in that direction, and at this point we feel that threshold has been crossed.”
The “safety notice” means none of the aircraft — or a new version, the Max 9, which isn’t as widely used — can fly into, out of, or over Canada, he added: “I will not hesitate to take swift action should we discover any additional safety issues.”
Garneau tipped off his American counterparts just before the announcement about the Canadians’ change of heart on the aircraft. Hours later, President Donald Trump announced that the United States would follow suit.
Trump said he had told American airlines about the decision as well as Boeing and all agreed with his administration’s decision. Any planes in the air will be grounded upon landing, and remain on the ground until further notice, Trump said, while Boeing works on a fix to the aircraft’s software.
“The safety of the American people and all people is our paramount concern,” Trump said in announcing his decision.
While aviation experts warn against drawing conclusions until more information emerges from the crash investigation, numerous jurisdictions, including China, Germany, the United Kingdom and the European Union, had grounded the Max 8 or banned it from their airspace before Canada and the U.S. did.
Garneau said evidence about multiple Boeing 737 Max 8 flights suggests a worrying correlation between the Ethiopian Airlines crash and the tragedy in Indonesia less than five months ago. In certain circumstances, the planes’ systems try to tilt their noses down, contrary to the efforts of pilots — a pattern that was seen in both flights before they crashed, he said.
“I would repeat once again that this is not the proof that this is the same root problem,” he emphasized. “It could be something else.”
Passenger-rights advocate Gabor Lukacs said Wednesday that it would be prudent for Garneau to suspend use of the aircraft until questions are answered about what caused the Ethiopian crash.
“Generally, one should always be erring on the side of caution when it comes to safety questions,” he said from Halifax. “If there is enough evidence of a potential harm, and in this case I think there is evidence of potential harm, then the prudent thing is to ground those aircraft.”
He said airlines should allow passengers to rebook on other planes or cancel their tickets without penalty if they have apprehensions about flying on a Max 8.
Garneau said affected travellers should contact their airlines to find out what to do, he added.
“There will be some disruption, there’s no question about that,” he said, but safety is more important. He said he hopes the planes will be flying safely within weeks.
In a statement Wednesday, before the order from Transport Canada, Air Canada spokeswoman Isabelle Arthur said the airline has a “flexible rebooking policy” that includes options to change flights to another aircraft if space permits, but wouldn’t indicate if that comes with a fee.
“Based on real information and data, and ongoing consultations with government safety regulators including Transport Canada and the FAA, we have full confidence in the safety of our fleet and operations and we continue to operate the 737,” she said in an email.
Air Canada, along with Southwest and American Airlines, had been the major outliers in resisting a grounding of the planes. Air Canada has 24 Max 8 aircraft (out of 184 in its main fleet), which it uses mainly for domestic and U.S. routes, while Calgary-based WestJet Airlines Ltd. has 13 Max 8s (out of about 150 planes).
Air Canada cancelled London-bound flights from Halifax and St. John’s, N.L., after the United Kingdom banned all Boeing Max 8 jets from its airspace.
The U.S.-based Boeing had said it had no reason to pull the popular aircraft from the skies and did not intend to issue new recommendations about the aircraft to customers.
The Federal Aviation Administration had backed the jet’s airworthiness before reversing course early Wednesday afternoon.
Garneau said the American authority is “an extremely professional organization” and Canada is “very comfortable” with it as a certifying agency for American makers’ airplanes.
Companies in this story: (TSX:AC, TSX:WJA)
— with files from Alison Auld in Halifax and the Associated Press
Jordan Press, The Canadian Press
Trans Mountain puts contractors on notice to get ready for pipeline restart
OTTAWA — Construction on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project is set to restart in the next month, just in time for the official kick-off of the federal election.
Trans Mountain Corp., the federal crown agency that owns and operates the pipeline, said Wednesday that work on the terminals in Burnaby, B.C. is set to restart immediately, while work laying pipe on the route in parts of Alberta are on track to start within the next month. Construction contractors were told they have 30 days to hire workers, prepare detailed construction plans and mobilize equipment.
“This is a major milestone,” said Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi.
Getting construction underway likely leaves many Liberals breathing a sigh of relief, including Sohi, whose riding is just a few kilometres from the Edmonton terminal where the pipeline begins. His already shaky re-election prospects would be even tougher if the pipeline remained stalled.
The federal campaign has to begin no later than Sept. 15 for an Oct. 21 vote, but Sohi said getting shovels in the ground on Trans Mountain has nothing to do with politics.
“I know people want to link this to elections,” he said. “I have never linked it to elections. I always tell that we owe it to Albertans, we owe it to Canadians, energy sector workers and communities who rely on middle class jobs that we get the process right.”
Sohi won in 2015 by less than 100 votes, one of only four Liberals elected in Alberta in the last election. All four seats are considered in play in this election, and anger in Alberta about the struggling oil industry is one of the reasons why.
Sohi visited with pipeline workers on site in Sherwood Park, Alta., on Wednesday. He told them that 4,200 people should be working on the project before the end of the year and the new completion date is in 2022. When the pipeline was initially approved in 2016, construction was supposed to be done by the end of this year.
Sohi also said the construction is going ahead “despite the fearmongering of some Conservative politicians to tell Canadians minutes after we approved the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion that the construction will never happen.”
Edmonton Conservative MP Matt Jeneroux was not impressed with the news.
“Canadians have heard time and time again that Justin Trudeau wants to get pipelines built, yet in four years he has done the exact opposite,” Jeneroux said in an emailed statement.
The Conservatives say the Liberals have killed other pipelines and now have a new environmental assessment process coming in that will ensure no more pipelines are ever approved going forward.
“These decisions are all part of Justin Trudeau’s plan to phase out Canada’s oil and gas sector,” Jeneroux said.
The federal Liberals approved the Trans Mountain expansion in 2016, but the pressure to bring the project to fruition heightened in May 2018 when the government decided to buy the pipeline for $4.5 billion when Kinder Morgan Canada backed away under the uncertainty of numerous legal challenges and political fighting. The Liberals said the government would buy the pipeline, build the expansion and sell it back to a private investor.
The court decision three months later to rip up approval threw all those plans in jeopardy.
After another round of Indigenous consultations and a new review of the project’s impact on marine life off the coast of Vancouver, cabinet green-lighted the expansion for a second time in June.
Six British Columbia First Nations and at least two environment groups have filed new court challenges against the approval.
The Canadian Press
Huawei executive’s defence team alleges Canadians were ‘agents’ of the FBI
VANCOUVER — A defence team for a Chinese telecom executive is alleging Canadian officials acted as “agents” of American law enforcement while she was detained at Vancouver’s airport for three hours ahead of her arrest.
In court documents released this week, defence lawyers for Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou point to handwritten notes by Canadian officers indicating Meng’s electronics were collected in anticipation of a request from the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States.
The notes show the RCMP asked the FBI if the U.S. was interested in Meng’s luggage and that a Canada Border Services Agency officer wrote down Meng’s passcodes, while another questioned her about Huawei’s alleged business in Iran.
This happened before she was informed of her arrest, the defence says.
“The RCMP and/or CBSA were acting as agents of the FBI for the purpose of obtaining and preserving evidence,” alleges a memorandum of fact and law filed by the defence.
“The question that remains is to what extent and how the FBI were involved in this scheme.”
The materials collected by the defence were released ahead of an eight-day hearing scheduled for September, in which the defence is expected to argue for access to more documentation ahead of Meng’s extradition trial.
The Attorney General of Canada has yet to file a response and none of the allegations have been tested in court.
Meng’s arrest at Vancouver airport has sparked a diplomatic crisis between Canada and China and drawn international scrutiny of Canadian extradition laws.
She was arrested at the behest of the U.S., which is seeking her extradition on fraud charges in violation of sanctions with Iran.
Both Meng and Huawei have denied any wrongdoing. Meng is free on bail and is living in one of her multimillion-dollar homes in Vancouver.
The RCMP and CBSA did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the documents but have said in a response to a civil claim that border officials only examined Meng and her luggage for immigration and customs purposes.
Meng extradition trial won’t begin until Jan. 20, but the court documents shed light on her defence team’s planned arguments that her arrest was unlawful and for the benefit of the United States.
“These are allegations of a purposeful violation of a court order and the abuse of important Canadian legal norms for improper purposes, namely, to further the objectives of the requesting state,” the defence says.
They plan to argue that the U.S. committed an abuse of process by using the extradition proceedings for political and economic gain. Parts of the defence are comments by U.S. President Donald Trump that he would intervene in Meng’s case “if necessary.”
The seizure of electronics and questioning of Meng by border officials in Canada also follows a pattern of how Huawei employees have been treated at U.S. ports of entry.
“This targeting has included the apparent abuse of customs and immigration powers to search and question Huawei employees at various U.S. ports of entry,” the documents say.
The defence accuses officers of intentionally poor note keeping that obscures what exactly happened, including why the arrest plan apparently changed.
The documents suggest that Canadian officials initially planned to arrest Meng “immediately” after she landed, by boarding the plane before she got off. Instead, three CBSA officers immediately detained Meng when she disembarked the plane while two RCMP officers stood nearby and watched, despite their knowledge of the warrant calling for her “immediate” arrest, the defence says.
The defence argues spotty notes kept by the CBSA officers constitute a “strategic omission.”
“When assessed together, a clear pattern emerges from these materials: the CBSA and the RCMP have strategically drafted these documents to subvert the applicant’s ability to learn the truth regarding her detention,” the defence says.
Amy Smart, The Canadian Press
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