It’s like a plotline of Miami Vice - the Canadian spin off.
A Mississauga, Ontario-based start-up airline with plans to launch scheduled passenger service from YKF this year has been embroiled in a drug smuggling scheme that has resulted in the arrest of its Canadian cabin crew by authorities in the Dominican Republic.
As Open Jaw reported in NOV, Pivot Airlines launched in JUN of 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last fall, the airline stated that it intended to launch scheduled service initially from YKF to YOW and YUL in FEB and MAR respectively this year. The launch of scheduled service has since been pushed to later this year.
Awaiting a stronger resumption of travel to launch scheduled service, Pivot Airlines has been providing private air charter service across Canada and in Latin America.
As local, Waterloo-region media and the Toronto Star report, last Tuesday, 200 bricks of cocaine were discovered on board one such chartered flight prior to its departure from the Dominican Republic to Toronto. The cocaine reportedly weighed 210 kg and is worth about $18 million.
A news release from the Dominican Republic’s drug control agency says that Dominican Republic drug control agents intercepted the illegal cargo when they searched the aircraft and found “eight black bags filled with bricks of cocaine. The bags were hidden inside aircraft compartments.”
The agency took 11 people into custody, including nine Canadians, pending an investigation.
“The crew, passengers and others investigated, as well as the aircraft, Mitsubishi CRJ-100ER, are under the control of the Public Ministry while the investigations continue to determine if there are others possibly implicated,” the agency’s release states.
The description of the seized jet corresponds with the Pivot Airlines aircraft. The detainees reportedly include five aircrew.
Pivot Airlines told media that it was the aircrew who found the drugs on the passenger jet and notified local authorities at Punta Cana International Airport.
On Saturday, the airline released a statement saying, “In keeping with our policies and procedures, as well as local and international laws and regulations, the crew immediately reported the discovery to local authorities,” the airline said.
Pivot Airlines says it is co-operating with local authorities in the Dominican Republic and also that it has reported the matter to Canada’s own RCMP and border officials for investigation if warranted.
It has also retained legal counsel for its employees detained in Punta Cana.
“Our primary concern is our crew’s safety, security, ethical and humane treatment as we seek to ensure their safe return to Canada,” the airline said.
“Together with the three national unions representing the crew members, we continue to co-operate with all relevant authorities as they investigate this matter. We have engaged local embassies and retained reputable and experienced local legal representation in support of our crew members.
“Our focus is on supporting our crew during this difficult time and we are committed to returning them home safely."