A Canadian man says he was arrested and criminally charged by Toronto Police after returning from vacation in Mexico for sneezing during an Air Canada flight.
In August of 2020, Vadim Ilyinsky was on his way home from Mexico on an Air Canada flight. According to Ilyinsky, the elastic string on his mask broke during the journey. While he was working on retying it, another passenger complained to flight attendants that a fellow passenger wasn’t wearing a mask. When airline staff approached Ilyinsky and he was explaining the situation, he felt like he was going to sneeze suddenly, and did, directly on the flight attendant’s skirt.
Ilyinsky maintains he warned the hostess as much as he could in the limited time he had, apologizing profusely afterwards. Nonetheless, when the flight landed at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, Toronto Peel Regional Police were waiting for him. Ilyinsky was charged with “Mischief – Interfering with Lawful Use, Enjoyment, or Operation of Property,” punishable by a $5,000 fine.
In court documents obtained by Canadian independent media outlet Rebel News, the attendant claimed in her police report that Ilyinsky “suddenly and very deliberately leaned forward and emitted a very loud sneeze,” which naturally led to “saliva and possible nasal fluids” landing on her uniform.
In an interview with Rebel, Ilyinsky said he often suffers from sneezing bouts due to a sinus operation he had as a child, which results in his sinuses being weakened. He says during the flight he already suffered one sneezing attack, which he ran to the lavatory to deal with in private, as he understood that passengers and staff were paranoid about COVID-19 due to the hysteria and fear surrounding the pandemic.
Some time after returning to his seat, Ilyinsky’s mask broke and he was approached by airline staff because he was trying to fix it, as he did not have a spare. Police documents shown in the interview reveal the official file on the case says, “Complainants had an issue with the accused…over the wearing of a mask due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The accused was told numerous times to wear his mask, at which point, he refused.”
“He simply ignored and pretended to sneeze several times in defiance,” says the report.
Ilyinsky gave his side of the story, “The crew member come to me and ask me ‘Do you have a problem with the mask?’ And yeah, like, I do, and we started the conversation and then I feel that I need to sneeze again, and I started to say ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sneezing. I’m sorry, I’m sorry I’m sneezing!’ And I sneezed.”
Ilyinsky says he’s a loud sneezer, and so is his entire family. After his loud sneeze, the attendant left upset and returned to hand him what he described as a warning card, advising him to not do it again. The two hour remainder of the flight was uneventful until landing in Toronto, where he was arrested by police.
Rebel says they reached out to Air Canada media relations for comment before publishing the interview, but the airline declined to speak.
Ilyinsky said the sneeze was completely involuntary and he could not control it because of a medical issue, “Sometimes I have that sneezing attacks from time to time for all my life. And the reason for it is because when I was a child I have an operation on the sinuses and my sinuses is not very healthy.”
A Service Director for Air Canada who was on the flight also filed a police report in support of the charges saying he was nearby “dealing with an unrelated matter” at the time of the incident. However, the Service Director’s story differed from the attendant’s. The Director claimed Ilyinsky took his “mask off with both his hands while facing Gail [the flight attendant] and cough directly at her.”
When Ilyinsky was arrested after landing he said, “Honestly, I feel very shocked. Like you know, my blood just come out of my… I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to do.”
Ilyinsky said he has to appear at a pre-trial conference in early July as the first stage of his prosecution and is looking for a lawyer, a task which has proven difficult, “It’s not easy to find lawyer who on your side. Because people today kind of divided. And even if lawyer represent you he might personally be kind of against you because…it’s a very strange time.”
“I’m just looking for a good end to it, because I’m kind of afraid that court might be taking not my side because of whatever happened now in the world… so I didn’t have any intention to do anything wrong to anyone, but this is how they accept it, so I hope for the best,” said Ilyinsky.
Rebel News runs a program dubbed Fight the Fines, where they undertake to pay for a lawyer to represent “every single Canadian that gets a lockdown ticket.” The program has expanded to representation in the United Kingdom and Australia. So far, the campaign has attracted donations from 12,500 separate entities.
Rebel has taken on more than 2,000 cases amid more than $13 million in fines issued nationally by police against citizens. The publication’s founder, Ezra Levant, says the project has become Canada’s de facto largest civil liberties project.