Armed Gunmen Storm Canadian Plane on Toronto Tarmac

Be careful how you express yourself on board an aircraft.

A 25-year-old Canadian man is in custody after two U.S. fighter jets escorted a Panama-bound flight back to Toronto on Friday.

The passenger complained how much he hated Canada due to the high cost of cigarettes. (Canada increased cigarette taxes more than 20% this year, and applied the tax even to ‘duty free’ purchases.) He ended hyperbolically, “I just want to bomb Canada.”

CTV news has video of law enforcement boarding the plane in the form of an armed assault.

While officers stormed the plane, they yelled orders at passengers “heads down! Hands up! Show me all your hands.. Keep your hands up!”

The man has been charged with “mischief to property, mischief interfering with lawful enjoyment of property, uttering threats and endangering the safety of an aircraft.”

Basically the whole thing went down like this:

(HT: Reason Hit & Run)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. As a Canadian I am saddened that it got to that level of paranoid over-reaction. I thought only Americans could do that! It’s ironic that the most potential danger in this situation came from sending in the SWAT team.

    Yes, it was an incredibly stupid thing to say (and unfortunately, the man apparently has some mental illness) but I fear more from a society that lives on a hair trigger than from terrorism.

    Seeing the news story, it appears that the man may be of middle-eastern descent. Cynically, I wonder if he had been a blue-eyed blond would events have unfolded in the same way. It’s shameful that we have become so paranoid.

  2. Hi Gary – this is a kind of misleading title. Maybe something more like “SWAT Team Storm Canadian Plane on Toronto Tarmac” would be better – “Armed gunmen” sounds like malice is involved.

  3. @Max J – you mean it wasn’t malice to completely overreact with the SWAT team? Imagine how traumatized all the passengers were, let alone the deranged “culprit”. But air crews love this – they can play the “unruly passenger” card and threaten anyone with calling the police who complains about lousy service (or tweets about it). Very sad day for Canadians – acting more and more like the 51st State all the time.

  4. @MaxJ – the title is intentional, and not at all to mislead. The point is to frame the confrontation. It may not be who you are expecting to storm the plane, but that’s the point. Armed gunmen did storm the plane and create an incredibly toxic and potentially deadline situation. That they may have acted lawfully, the question of lawfulness is exactly what the juxtoposition of title and story is meant to question.

  5. @Max J — The impact on the other passengers was so severe that apparently one of them became dangerously ill from a panic reaction, causing a further diversion to Jamaica for a medical emergency. Under the circumstances it seems disingenuous to criticize @Gary Leff for the title of his post.

  6. If you want a sensationalist headline, perhaps “US fighter jets scrambled to force foreign holiday flight from US airspace”. It is pretty evident that those involved found this to be a credible threat and if the deranged individual had indeed had a bomb, then the SWAT team would not have been the most dangerous part of this story. I don’t think that your threat assessment after the fact from hearsay evidence is especially useful.
    On the other hand, @David, what the heck? Having a bad day?

  7. I hope passengers who did NOT talk about bombs but were treated as criminals bring a class action suit against Canada and go all the way to the Human Rights Court of the Americas.

  8. The passenger’s name was Ali Shahi. Would this sort of expression be taken as a serious threat if uttered by a Bob Williams?

  9. @peachfront, Gary & Paul – The info here isn’t what I’ve heard. Yes – it might’ve been over-reacting, but as the plane was returning, the media headline from Sunwing was that there was a “direct threat” being made – presumably, the SWAT team knew a variation of the same and treated it as such.

  10. Complete and utter madness. What was the gentleman in question supposed to do upon the plane reaching the gate that he hadn’t already had occasion to do in the hours in-between? This is precisely how police forces manage to shoot innocent people and then have to lie their way out of responsibility for doing so, which only serves to destroy their credibility.

  11. @Ron Bob Williams would probably get his head blasted off. Mm husband’s name is Roger Williams, and I can assure you that the name Williams is on the watch list. He has been detained for questioning re-entering from both Panama and Canada. So yes I think the over-reaction would have been the same for Bob Williams as for this man. It is nuisance enough that my husband will no longer consent to travel out of the country with me, because he’s tired of the going to secondary and is fearful of a mistake being made.

    @Max J There was a day when a ranting anorexic crazy dude could have been handled by a couple of well-built male nurses and a hypodermic needle. There’s a difference between a skinny dude with no weapons shooting off his mouth and a dangerous terrorist shooting off weapons. Agreed? If we have to send out the SWAT team for every anorexic off his meds out there, we’re going to have some hella taxes. I’m not sure what your argument is. It sounds like you’re saying the SWAT team was scared. Yeah. We get it. They were scared. But it’s convenient that they were scared because that way they can continue to get a huge SWAT team & toy budget…?

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