Canadian flight crew still stranded in Dominican Republic after 6 months

They prevented millions of dollars worth of drugs from being smuggled into Canada and are now being detained in the Dominican Republic. Shauna Hunt with the flight crew that's been held for 6 months and the calls on Ottawa to secure their return.

By Shauna Hunt and Meredith Bond

A Canadian flight crew who have been detained in the Dominican Republic for the last six months are set to face a court hearing that could send them back to prison.

The charter flight crew with Pivot Airlines was set to leave on Punta Cana on April when there was an indication in the cockpit that something was wrong in the avionics bay, a very small hallway within the floor of the airplane.

During an inspection of the bay, the maintenance engineer who travels with the crew encountered some duffel bags that weren’t supposed to be there. After reporting what was found to both the RCMP and Dominican authorities, around $25-million worth of cocaine was discovered in the luggage.

Pivot Airlines CEO Eric Edmondson tells CityNews since that day the flight’s crew has been detained in the Dominican. They were originally held in prison, but were later released on bail and are now staying in a safe house in the Dominican Republic.

The crew — two pilots, two flight attendants and one maintenance engineer and Captain Robert Di Venanzo — had to surrender their passports pending further investigation. No formal charges have been laid against them.

In a video released by Pivot Airline on Twitter, the crew urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the federal government for held from what they described as inhumane living conditions and said they feared for their safety.

“In prison, a body was placed outside of our cells, and we were told that we were next, we are living a nightmare,” said Di Venanzo in the video.

“No one should have to endure this hell in the Dominican Republican simply for doing their job. Please show the world that Canada will stand up for truth, justice, and most importantly, the safety of Canadians. Show Canadians they have their backs. Please, Mr. Prime Minister, help bring us,” urged Di Venazo, who is a father of two.

On October 20, the crew has a “routine bail hearing” where Edmondson claims the prosecutor wants their bail revoked and “have our people thrown back into prison.”

“It’s a one-way trip if they end up back in that jail. They won’t be coming home. They’ll be killed. That’s almost 100 per cent certainty they are whistleblowers.”

Edmondson said they have video evidence that shows how the drugs made it on to the plane which show it was a third party unrelated to their crew.

“The disturbing part is that the Dominican authorities and the prosecutors’ office had this evidence from day one. And they ought to have known who put the drugs on the aircraft,” said Edmondson. “It was 100% unrelated, third party.”

The charter company is in contact with the crew daily and say they’ve had good days and bad days, but after six months it’s been very hard on their families.

“As you can imagine after six months, there are more frequent bad days than good days. Their families are in great distress as well as just it’s just a terrifying experience for doing the right thing again,” explained Edmondson. “These people did the right thing. They saw a suspicious package on the aircraft and they alerted the authorities of two countries. And they ended up in a horrible situation.”

Edmondson said they have multiple law firms working in Canada and the Dominican Republic including a private investigative firm and government relations firms, but say the federal government has not done enough to secure their release.

“The Canadian government has been more engaged since we shared with them the evidence that we have that exonerates our crew. But ultimately, you have to judge the the actions by what’s happened and so far, nothing good has happened.”

He adds the crew were working through COVID for the government “day in and day out.”

“We flew the central service flights for the federal government or the provincial government day in and day out, which is one of the reasons why they feel so abandoned.” said Edmonson. “During the two years of COVID, they were flying every day doing these essential service flights for the government. And of course when they needed the government, where are they?”

The Canadian government told CityNews they are aware of the incident and continue to “monitor the situation closely, are engaging with local authorities, and providing consular assistance,” but due to privacy, no further information was released.

“They’re normal Canadians. They were just doing their job. They did this every day,” said Edmondson.

Edmondson believes the Dominican government is trying to send a message. “What they want to do is have this crew incarcerated with a clear message to all airline pilots across the world to fly into the Dominican. Don’t look in your airplane and if you find something, don’t report it, continue on and carry our goods to your country.”

Top Stories

Top Stories

Most Watched Today