Toronto television personality fined for assault in air rage case

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - The next time a flight attendant tells her to sit down, Colleen Walsh says she'll listen.
The former Toronto broadcaster apologized Wednesday after she was fined $2,400 for assaulting a fellow passenger and breaching the federal Aeronautics Act during an outburst she partly blamed on menopausal exhaustion.
Her tarmac tantrum last March 31 made her a lightning rod for Internet critics who blasted her chippy refusal initially to admit she'd lost it.
A more reflective and remorseful Walsh met reporters outside court after the judge-only verdict.
"I accept the responsibility," she said. "I think the judge ruled very fairly in terms of my behaviour and I apologize for what I did. Never did I have any intention of this escalating to what it became."
Walsh, a former host of health and architecture shows for Global Television and Rogers TV, said her career and reputation have been "decimated."
"For me, it's been devastating to think that I would be lumped in the same category as anybody who is a criminal. Because I didn't feel that I had committed a crime," she said.
"I maintain that we all acted erratically and that we should all accept some responsibility. And I'll certainly do my part in the future to maintain a much calmer demeanour wherever I am."
Walsh, 49, was removed from the transatlantic flight after it landed in St. John's for a medical emergency.
Police and security officers testified that she was loud, insulting and appeared drunk when she was taken off the Air Canada Boeing 767 bound for Toronto from London.
Provincial court Judge Greg Brown said Walsh's conduct that day was "outrageous," even though he found her not guilty of obstructing the operation of an aircraft and of causing a disturbance. Brown cited a lack of evidence to support those two charges.
"She appears to have been impacted greatly ... by lack of sleep, travel at 30,000 feet, the meal, two small bottles of wine and consuming a sleeping pill," he said.
Her actions could well have had something to do with mixing alcohol and medication, the judge added.
Walsh wasn't responsible for diverting the plane, but she certainly wasn't happy when it landed in St. John's, Brown said.
Walsh testified that she'd been up for 30 hours and was on hormone replacement therapy.
She accused Air Canada staff, airport security and police of treating her "like a caged animal."
Walsh blamed the airline - which had lost her luggage en route from Dublin - for what she called its "incompetent" handling of a medical situation.
But Walsh vehemently denied saying, as she sat in the back of a police cruiser, that she hoped the plane that left St. John's without her would "blow up," contrary to a police officer's earlier testimony.
"I would never say something like that. My whole background has been in healing and helping," she testified.
Walsh was placed on probation for a year. She was also ordered to remove offensive blog posts about Stan Harrington, a 67-year-old passenger she assaulted.
Walsh was ordered to use that same blog to apologize to Harrington, who testified that the accused stalked down the aisle towards him and backhanded him on the side of the head after he told her to "just sit down."
The judge said Harrington, of Ontario, was only trying to defuse the situation.
Walsh said she had slept through PA announcements about the St. John's landing and only wanted information. The plane landed after a young woman drifted in and out of consciousness - a situation Walsh, who is trained in first aid, said Air Canada officials blew out of proportion.
She also said a crew member was "surly" when she offered to help.
As for Harrington, Walsh testified that she merely touched his forehead with the heel of her hand in an effort to calm him. The judge didn't believe her.
Provincial Crown attorney Wendy Zdebiak had asked for a fine and a period of probation.
Federal Crown lawyer Mark Stares had asked for a fine of $2,000 for the conviction under the Aeronautics Act, plus conditions that Walsh refrain from drinking alcohol and stay away from Air Canada premises and aircraft.
For her part, Walsh said she hopes both she and Harrington can move on with their lives.
She said much of the last nine months has been a fog of paralyzing depression and disbelief. She described Wednesday's verdict as a new beginning.
"I'm going to try and live my life without judgment and by trying to be a better person every day of my life. If this experience has done anything, it has put me in that direction in a much clearer path."

Organizations: Air Canada, Global Television

Geographic location: ST. JOHN'S, Toronto, London Dublin Ontario

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