Matthew Pearson, Ottawa (Ottawa Citizen) - The Public Service Alliance of Canada is accusing the RCMP of grounding a plane that was carrying a banner critical of Prime Minister Stephen Harper “for political reasons.”
The union says it hired a plane to fly over Ottawa and Gatineau on Saturday with a trailing banner that read, in French, “StephenHarperNousDéteste.ca” (Stephen Harper hates us).
The RCMP denies it is responsible for making such a call and suggests Nav Canada — which oversees Canada’s skies — could be behind it.
“Any calls in regards to the PSAC plane, I’m going to direct you to contact the regulatory body responsible for establishing and enforcing the rules. They would be able to answer any questions as to why they decided to have that plane land,” said Cpl. Lucy Shorey.
“I don’t mean to send you on a wild-goose chase but I believe that would be Nav Canada, that would be a good place to start.”
But Nav Canada said in an email Monday that it was not their call to bring the plane down.
“We have looked into this and can confirm that there was no instruction from NAV CANADA air traffic control to land that plane,” said Nav Canada’s media relations manager Ron Singer.
“Please check directly with the RCMP. Nav Canada has no further comment.”
PSAC booked a plane to fly over the capital region for three hours on Saturday — in conjunction with the popular Hot Air Balloon Festival in Gatineau, but things didn’t go according to plan.
“When the plane took off from Rockcliffe (airport), it was flying for about an hour-and-a-half and the pilot received a message that he must land his plane immediately and that the RCMP wanted to question him,” PSAC’s Larry Rousseau said.
According to Rousseau, the RCMP told the pilot the banner could constitute hate speech and a threat to Harper’s security, but the union — which paid $1,000 per hour for the three-hour flight — disagrees.
“We don’t see criticism of the prime minister as being hate speech, we see it as being freedom of speech,” Rousseau said.
“I’ve never, ever heard of anything like this for any previous prime minister. It has become so absurd to see that anything that is critical of the prime minister is immediately met with fear and trepidation.
“What kind of country of are we coming to if we cannot openly criticize the prime minister without the security forces taking someone aside for interrogations?”
The RCMP apparently also had concerns that the plane entered restricted airspace over Parliament Hill and 24 Sussex Dr.
But the pilot was fully aware of airspace restrictions in place in Ottawa, Rousseau said, adding Nav Canada, the country’s air traffic control service, confirmed the PSAC-hired plane remained outside the restricted zone for the entire flight.
Rousseau said PSAC may try to bring the plane back to Ottawa in the future.
The StephenHarperNousDéteste.ca website, launched by PSAC’s Quebec region, is part of the union’s national campaign, which is designed to draw attention to how all Canadians are affected by cuts to the federal public service. Some public servants have also been wearing T-shirts and buttons that say, “Stephen Harper hates me.”
“It may be somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but it’s a remark that says, ‘What has he got against us personally?’” Rousseau said.
The union has hired a plane to take similar flights over Montreal and other Quebec communities over the past few weeks.