OTTAWA — A pilot hired by the Public Service Alliance of Canada to fly over Ottawa and Gatineau with a political banner was ordered to land his plane, the RCMP admitted Monday, even though the aircraft had not entered restricted airspace.
The union says it paid for a plane to fly over the capital region for three hours on Saturday with a trailing banner that read, in French, "StephenHarperNousDéteste.ca" (Stephen Harper hates us), to coincide with the popular Hot Air Balloon Festival in Gatineau.
But things did not go according to plan, the pilot says.
Gian Piero Ciambella claims he was ordered to land his Piper Supercub after being in the air for about 90 minutes because two RCMP officers were waiting at the Ottawa-Rockcliffe airport to question him.
"They flexed their muscles to bring me down," he said from his home in Saint Hubert, QC. "I'm advertising a website, I have nothing against the prime minister, I'm doing my job."
It remains unclear why the plane was ordered out of the sky as the Ciambella and the RCMP offered conflicting stories.
Ciambella says he repeatedly checked with air traffic control to ensure that he was outside Ottawa's restricted zones, and that at no time was he told that he had penetrated the restricted area above Parliament Hill.
But, Ciambella said, an official at the Rockcliffe airport contacted him on the radio to inform him that the police wanted to talk to him, so he complied with their request.
Ciambella said the RCMP officers who met him appreciated his cooperation in bringing his flight to an early end, but they told him that the message on the banner could be construed as hate speech — hence their request for him to return to the airport for questioning.
Ciambella also said that he denied to the RCMP that merely promoting a client's website could be considered hate speech towards the prime minister. He added that he had flown five prior promotions for the site in Quebec since August 19th, and has done two more since Saturday. He says he told the RCMP, "don't shoot the messenger."