Ottawa concerned about Canadian crew held in Dominican Republic

Ottawa concerned about Canadian crew held in Dominican Republic

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The five crew members have still not been charged and the federal government is trying to get an expedited investigation and their speedy return home if no charges are brought.

On April 5, Dominican authorities arrested two pilots, two flight attendants and a maintenance engineer after they said they found a bag hidden in a Pivot Airlines aircraft.

The Pivot Airlines crew were arrested in the Dominican Republic in April after reporting to authorities that millions of dollars worth of cocaine had been found on their plane.

Photo: CBC/Unifor/YouTube

Dominican drug control officials later uploaded a video claiming to have found eight black gym bags on board the plane filled with more than 200 kilograms of cocaine.

The Prime Minister of Canada and the Minister of Foreign Affairs have already raised the issue with their counterparts at the Summit of the Americas last week. They were then assured that the case would be handled in accordance with the rule of law.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra told CBC News that the government continues to press Dominican authorities.

We will do whatever it takes to find a way, first, to make sure they have due process and their rights are protected, and second, to see them return home safely. »

A quote from Omar Alghabra, Canadian Minister of Transport

One of the pilots, Captain Robert Di Venanzo, told CBC News he was grateful for the government assistance, but expected more to be done.

We thought we were heroes

Mr Di Venanzo says he and his colleagues have been living a nightmare for six weeks because they did the right thing.

We thought we were heroes, saw what we found and what we reportedMr. Di Venanzo said in a Zoom call from an undisclosed location in the country.

We thought we had done an extraordinary thing by not allowing these products to come back into Canada. »

A quote from Robert Di Venanzo, pilot

Mr. Di Venanzo said events happened quickly. The five crew members were handcuffed even before Dominican authorities transported them to a local detention center.

During the first nine days in prison, detainees repeatedly told them that if they did not call home to ask their families for money, they would be killed, Di Venanzo added.

We were threatened with death by narcocriminals, extorted by inmates, and lived in inhuman and humiliating conditionsRobert Di Venanzo said in a video uploaded with his team last week, pleading with the Canadian government to come to their aid.

In prison, a corpse was placed in front of our cell and we were told that we would be next. We are living a nightmare. »

A quote from Robert Di Venanzo, pilot

The inmates and Pivot Airlines version

The company, which specializes in regional air transport, says the ordeal began when the crew flew to Punta Cana on the evening of April 4 with another commercial airline.

The crew’s job was to fly a 50-seat Pivot jet back to Toronto that had been chartered by an Alberta real estate investment firm. The plane landed in Punta Cana on March 31 and was parked for five days in a secure location guarded by an American company. The original Pivot crew flew back to Canada.

On April 5, a mechanical engineer was fixing a problem on the plane before takeoff for Toronto when he spotted a black bag in a compartment under the front of the plane, filled with computers, cables and fans.

The crew immediately called the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and Dominican police, Di Venanzo said.

We did not know at the time if it was an explosive device or a contraband product.he specified.

The cocaine found on the Pivot Airlines plane.

Photo: CBC

A few hours later, the Dominican authorities brought the crew out. They had spread out on the tarmac all the duffel bags containing drugs that they said had been recovered from the plane.

The crew was then taken into custody and crammed into a cell with 26 other detainees, according to Mr Di Venanzo. They weren’t fed for three days and had to sleep on the ground or stand up.

In a statement to CBC News, a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said that consular officers provide assistance and are in contact with the families of Canadian citizens.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs is also directly involved in this file, said Ms. Joly’s office. This is a priority. For privacy reasons, we cannot discuss further details.

Call to put Canadians back in jail

Since their release in April, the crew members have not yet been questioned by investigators and have not been charged, Mr Di Venanzo said.

Dominican authorities, however, told the crew that they could not leave the country until the end of the investigation, which could take another 10 months.

On July 21, the Dominican Republic prosecutor will appeal the decision to allow the Canadians to be released on bail.

Speaking directly to the prime minister in a video, flight attendant Christina Carello also pleaded with Canadian authorities to come to her aid.

Prime Minister, if we go back to jail here, we may never go home. »

A quote from Christina Carello, flight attendant

The airline said it now houses its employees in undisclosed locations with private security. Mr. Di Venanzo described the bail conditions for the crew members as a house arrestadding that they do not have access to their passports or their own phones and are under constant surveillance by security personnel.

Pivot Airlines CEO Eric Edmondson says to himself very grateful of the aid provided so far by the Federal Minister, but he wishes the repatriation of the crew.

These people need to be protectedsaid Mr. Edmondson, who wants the crew to return to the country quickly. They gave out information on narcocriminals, it’s public, and they are now in danger.

It also calls on International aviation authorities to help them obtain surveillance footage.

The US company contracted to monitor the plane for the five days is not cooperating with airline investigators, Mr Edmondson said.

The Dominican Republic embassy told CBC News it needed more time to answer specific questions, but generally said the country is a Social and democratic rule of law, where the rule of law prevails.

No one is above the law. In this sense, these guarantees will be given to all citizens in all circumstances.the embassy wrote in a statement.

According to information fromAshley Burke (New window) and of Richard Raycraft (New window)from CBC News

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