A man whose Canadian passport expired while he was abroad cannot recover any of the costs he racked up after Air Canada refused to let him board his return flight, an Ontario court has ruled.
In its decision, the small claims court found that Gerald Gartner was the author of his own misfortune because he should have ensured his document was valid before trying to fly back to Toronto from St. Lucia.
“The plaintiff was responsible for failing to check his own passport,” Deputy Judge David Dwoskin said in his ruling in Ottawa. “Air Canada determined in good faith that it was required by applicable law or government regulation … to refuse to carry the plaintiff.”
The case arose in January last year when an Air Canada gate agent prevented Gartner from boarding his return flight because his passport had expired while he was there. He tried showing the agent his driver’s licence, health card and birth certificate — to no avail.
Gartner sued Air Canada for the $8,062.23 he said he spent in courier and other costs getting a renewed travel document as well as for a hotel and taxi fares. Among other things, he alleged Air Canada was in breach of contract by barring him from the flight he had reserved, and negligent in failing to train its out-of-country employees properly on the constitutional right of Canadian citizens to enter the country.
In its defence, Air Canada pointed to its terms and conditions of carriage, which, among other things, state that a valid passport is required for return travel to Canada.
The carrier also told court the Canada Border Services Agency had instructed airlines that gate agents can only accept valid passports as an international travel document and passengers cannot board a flight without one.
While border officials may allow travellers who have arrived in Canada to use other documents to enter the country, airline personnel are neither border agents nor trained as such, Dwoskin said.
The judge also found Gartner’s damages claim for more than $8,000 to cover the expenses he incurred for a new passport and a “lengthy stay at what appears to be a premium hotel” in St. Lucia to have been excessive.
Despite losing his case, Gartner did escape having to pay Air Canada any of its trial costs. Dwoskin said that was because of the “novel circumstances of the case and the public interest respecting the issues raised.”
He did say he would reconsider the costs issue if either side could show it had made a reasonable offer to settle before trial.