Air passenger advocate celebrates ruling in case against transport regulator

HALIFAX — A Halifax man who took the Canadian Transportation Agency to court is celebrating a decision he says will improve transparency and accountability for airline passengers in this country.

Air passenger advocate Gabor Lukacs says a ruling by the Federal Court of Appeal orders the agency to provide him with unredacted documents relating to a dispute between Air Canada and passengers bumped from a flight.

Lukacs launched a challenge against the regulator in March after he requested to view material relating to the incident and was frustrated with the results.

“I was asking for access to documents on the agency’s public record. Those documents were not subject to any confidentiality order and nevertheless I received redacted documents,” said Lukacs in an interview.

He said the agency provided him with documents in which information — including the names of the airline’s lawyers and some comments from passengers — was redacted.

At the time, Lukacs said the regulator’s failure to disclose evidence received while reviewing passenger complaints is a violation of the open court principle in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Federal Court of Appeal ruled on June 5 that the agency must provide an unredacted copy of the requested information and cover the costs associated with representing himself in court, according to documents provided by Lukacs.

But Lukacs says the decision has significance beyond the passenger complaint that sparked his challenge.

“What this is going to create is a more transparent and fair complaint process where there are far more opportunities to hold the agency accountable,” said Lukacs.

Lukacs says the ruling means anyone who wants to see evidence submitted to the Canadian Transportation Agency during a dispute between passengers and an airline will be able to request and review the documents without redactions.

The agency did not immediately return a request for an interview.

“What this decision achieves is that, in terms of the procedures and access to documents, the agency will have to operate very similarly to courts. Anything that is not subject to a confidentiality order must be publicly accessible.”

Hungarian by birth and a mathematician by training, Lukacs says the Canadian Transportation Agency has made 26 decisions in cases he started, 24 of them in his favour.

In recent years, Lukacs has been responsible for increasing the compensation Canadians receive when they are bumped by overbooking. Air Canada, Porter Airlines and Air Transat are among the companies whose policies have changed because of his complaints.

The Canadian Press