MONTREAL — A Black Montreal family alleges they were victims of racial profiling by Air Canada when they were removed from a Florida-bound flight last month after raising concerns their bags hadn't been loaded on the plane.
Members of the Wright family called for accountability on Tuesday as they told a news conference their version of how things unfolded on July 28 at Montréal-Trudeau International Airport.
Keith Wright said his daughter raised concerns to a flight attendant that the family's bags were still visible on the rain-soaked tarmac. The 7:30 p.m. flight had been delayed due to inclement weather, and the pilot had announced that some luggage would be left behind because the plane was over its weight limit.
After the Wright family spoke out, the plane returned to the gate and staff said they would find a remedy.
Wright, 55, said a white passenger who had complained about the delay and demanded to leave was asked to disembark with his young son. But to Wright's surprise, he and his daughter were also asked to leave the plane and were allegedly not told why.
His daughter, Jodi Smith-Wright, 31, insisted that neither she nor her father raised their voices, swore or were otherwise impolite.
"I couldn't believe that asking a question could lead to what happened to us and I do believe it was (racial profiling) because there were other people that were definitely concerned about their things when they overheard my complaint and nobody else was asked to get off the plane," she said.
Her father said being escorted from the rear of the craft created a deep embarrassment. "Completely, deeply hurt as a human being that this was happening to me."
Seven other members of the family — ranging in age from five to 60 — were also removed from the flight. Wright said another Black family was also asked to leave the plane but was finally allowed to stay when they said they weren't travelling with the Wrights.
Wright said that after his family left the plane they were met by six officers, including Canada Border Services Agency agents and Montreal police.
"I couldn't believe what was happening here just for asking for the service that Air Canada says they provide," Wright said.
The family had to scramble to find an alternate flight for nine people after an Air Canada official said they would be banned from flying with the carrier for 24 hours. They ended up with a sleepless night driving three personal vehicles to Syracuse, N.Y., to catch a last-minute morning flight, almost missing their cruise, which itself cost nearly $12,000.
"By the grace of God, we were able to make the cruise with 20 minutes to spare," Wright said.
Before getting on a return Air Canada flight after the cruise, he said he had to speak with an airline agent. "They were asking me if I was going be quiet, and I had to tell the person, 'Yes, I'm going to be in compliance,' like if I had committed some sort of major crime," Wright said.
The family said Tuesday it intends to file racial profiling complaints with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, assisted by the Montreal-based Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations.
In an emailed statement, Air Canada confirmed that a group of passengers were deplaned following "an incident on board the aircraft."
Christophe Hennebelle, vice-president for corporate communications, said the airline would not discuss what led to the decision, adding that the carrier deals with customers directly.
"However, these actions were taken only for the safety and well-being of our other customers and crew," Hennebelle wrote. "Should a complaint on this matter be filed with the competent authorities, we will take the opportunity at that time to explain our decision."
Fo Niemi, executive director of CRAAR, said each family member could seek up to $10,000 and that the commission's investigation will shed light on the alleged safety concern.
"We hope that this incident will compel not only Air Canada, but the airline industry, to come up with clear policy against racial profiling in commercial air travel," Niemi said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 29, 2023.
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press