Sunwing Incident Shines Light on Lack of Canadian Regulations

Jan 9, 2017


Sunwing has come into question after a Pilot was found to be intoxicated prior to flying in Calgary. The arrested Slovakian Pilot was working in Canada on a Visa, according to Global News. The pilot was reported by the co-pilot for odd behaviour prior to takeoff and was later tested at over three times the legal blood alcohol level.1 Sunwing’s response to the incident was very troubling as the airline seemed to be unsure of the regulations on workplace drug and alcohol testing in Canada.

“Sunwing Airlines claimed Monday it is illegal in Canada to do mandatory full or random drug or alcohol testing on employees.”2

This statement is very telling of the lack of understanding on drug and alcohol testing laws and regulations in Canada. The federal government was quick to comment saying “there is no specific provision in the Canada Labour Code addressing alcohol or drug testing in the workplace.”3 As Sunwing is a large airline and they are unclear on these laws, questions surrounding passenger safety are running through Canadian minds. This case has brought the lack of Canadian regulations on workplace drug and alcohol testing into the minds of Canadian citizens and legislators. Canada’s restrictions on alcohol consumption for pilots is currently “8 hours from the bottle to the throttle”.

This regulation was brought into question within the past year when two Canadian pilots were arrested in Scotland when appearing intoxicated in the cockpit in July 2016.4 This case caused questions concerning the lack of clear cut off levels as 8 hours may not be enough time to ensure a legal blood alcohol level. This form of regulation relies on the pilot’s and airline’s discretion and judgement which many consider not to be good enough when passengers are at risk.

Currently in Canada it is up to the employer to choose how they want to test their employees, which is problematic when employers are not even aware they have the right to implement workplace testing.

“Transport Canada says it’s up to individual airlines to test their own pilots”5

Leaving workplace drug and alcohol testing in the hands of the employer has it flaws as workplace safety is often jeopardized by employees being under the influence. The system in place relies predominantly on professionalism and self regulation which failed in the Sunwing case. Sunwing claims to have a training program in which all employees learn to look out for behaviours of intoxication. This training clearly failed as the intoxicated pilot was seen by numerous Sunwing employees on his way to the plane, and even managed to board the plane.

Responses to this incident have been quick as the federal government understands that this particular incident demonstrates a clear failure on the airlines responsibility and the responsibility of the government to ensure public safety.

Transport Canada is also planning a workshop in early spring where airlines, unions and medical experts can get together to consider further steps necessary to enhance aviation safety.”6

This workshop is the first step to closing the gap in knowledge about the drug and alcohol testing, from not only the aviation industry, but hopefully for all safety sensitive industries. Further conversation between government, employers and drug and alcohol industry leaders need to take place to ensure everyone is properly informed. There is room for workplace drug and alcohol testing policies for commercial air, as other commercial transportations have had these policies in place for decades.  

“The Air Canada Pilots Association (ACPA) said Wednesday that in Canada, ‘mandatory random testing is not generally supported by the jurisprudence’.”7

There will always be some form of push back from unions and professional associations surrounding any form of policy change. However, new policies need to be put in place to ensure incidents like this one with a pilot finding his way into the cockpit while intoxicated do not remain an issue in the industry.