Reverberations from the Germanwings air disaster are still being felt in Canada after a recent court case ended with a recommendation that at least one pilot undergo more extensive employee mental health screening.
Oakville resident and aviator William Matheuszik was found guilty of assault after an Ontario court heard unnerving testimony which painted the 50-year-old as an emotionally unstable aggressor – now, one of his victims says he shouldn’t be allowed back in the cockpit and a judge seems to agree.
“He’s not fit to be flying an airplane because he suffers from anger issues that need to be dealt with,” warns Matheuszik’s former friend and roommate, Robbin MacDonald.
“Until he’s gone through extensive psychiatric treatment, he shouldn’t be behind the wheel of a car, let alone an airplane,” he added. “He’s unpredictable and he’s scary.”
Justice Lesley Baldwin presided over the case, in which Matheuszik was also convicted of threatening his wife with death, and closed her ruling with the recommendation that “Air Canada may consider a mental health screening appropriate in these circumstances.”
Criminal defence lawyers say Baldwin’s comments are high unusual and are likely to have been issued in response to the March 24 Germanwings crash, in which co-pilot Andreas Lubitz deliberately killed all 144 people on board.
“I guess that the evidence given raised some suggestion that the pilot was unstable and, in light of the German/Alps disaster, this seemed a prudent step to take,” said Osgoode Hall law school professor Allan Hutchinson. “It presumably holds no binding force, although (Air Canada) would be ill-advised to ignore it,” he added.
Evidence given in court included several disturbing stories, including an incident where MacDonald returned home to find Matheuszik’s young wife sitting at the bottom of the stairs with a trash bag over her upper-body.
Matheuszik instructed his friend to leave her where she was – “Don’t touch her, she’s garbage, that’s where she belongs,” the judge quoted him – but MacDonald contravened. “She was catatonic, shivering, shaking, not responding,” he recalled in an interview.
The 45-year-old Ryerson student also said Matheuszik would lock his wife out of the house with minimal clothing or confine her to the basement, and had even been known to lock the freezer so she couldn’t eat.
Despite the shocking testimony, one Ottawa lawyer said it should not become standard practice for judges to notify employers when a worker has been convicted of a crime.
“It should be the exception, rather than the rule,” said criminal defence lawyer Michael Spratt. “There are no rules or procedures around these decisions to refer matters to employers, and it’s a decision that may have a profound impact on the person’s employment. You want to be sure that it’s necessary and appropriate.”
An Air Canada spokesman said Matheuszik is not currently flying, but would not comment further due to privacy issues.
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