News Canada

RCMP, union clash over free speech and security

Daniel Proussalidis, QMI Agency



The Mounties are trying to deflate the rhetoric of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) after a plane chartered by the union for a political protest midday Saturday was asked by the national police force to land early.

A local union executive said when the plane flying a banner with the message “Stephen Harper hates us” in French landed at the small Rockcliffe Airport in Ottawa, RCMP officers questioned the pilot about the message and expressed concern he flew into restricted areas.

“I can understand something like this happening in Putin’s Russia,” Larry Rousseau said. “But, for it to be happening here in Canada, we’re very, very disturbed by it.”

He said the RCMP raised the possibility the banner could be taken as “hate speech” against the prime minister and maintains the union’s right to protest was violated because the flight was cut short.

The Mounties deny being very concerned about the banner.

“I don’t think it was the message, as much as the level at which the plane was flying,” Cpl. Lucy Shorey said.

She said officers became concerned that the plane’s altitude “appeared pretty low” over Parliament Hill.

“It’s just by looking at it yourself as a police officer – that’s when you start questioning it,” Shorey said, adding that all perceived threats are taken seriously.

The union dismissed the RCMP’s concern.

“If (the pilot) had made a mistake, he would’ve been clearly informed by Nav Canada,” Rousseau said.

Nav Canada, which is responsible for monitoring flights, confirms it didn’t make the call to tell the pilot to land.

PSAC has been on an anti-Harper campaign for several months.

The RCMP says it's now satisfied the plane didn't actually enter restricted airspace.

Officials were not able to say what portion of the union dues it collects has been devoted to the “Harper hates” campaign.