|WestJet's Hill baited trash with fake plans
Airline espionage case
Wednesday, July 21, 2004
The WestJet Airlines Ltd. co-founder embroiled in a corporate espionage dispute with Air Canada placed a copy of a bogus WestJet business plan in his recycling bins that calls on the company to "embarrass" Robert Milton in order to highlight the chief executive's "stupidity," court documents indicate.
Mark Hill allegedly put the tongue-in-cheek document, ripped into "thick strips," in the bins because he knew private investigators were set to rummage through his trash.
Furthermore, he wanted to "demonstrate" his possession and use of confidential Air Canada data, lawyers for the insolvent airline claim in documents filed in anticipation of a court hearing tomorrow.
The phony business plan, which investigators were able to digitally reconstruct, has 12 main points for WestJet's 2004 strategy. Among them: add a "schwak" of planes to its fleet, including the Russian-made jet fighter, the Yakovlev; send Mr. Milton a Christmas card; and embarrass Mr. Milton for his "stupidity" in authorizing private eyes to scour through his garbage.
The plan also calls for WestJet to watch the Air Canada CEO "skulk back" to the United States, "where he came from."
At the end of the document is a message typed out in capital letters: "HAVE A NICE DAY, BOYS."
Air Canada lawyers contend Mr. Hill did not stop the airline's investigators from removing his garbage, even though the co-founder was taking photos and asking loudly, "Do you work for Air Canada?"
At tomorrow's hearing, WestJet is scheduled to seek permission from Ontario's Superior Court of Justice to countersue Air Canada on the grounds that its archrival unlawfully seized garbage bins from Mr. Hill's suburban Victoria-area home and, in doing so, violated his privacy. Also, WestJet alleges there was confidential company information in the bins.
Permission is required because lawsuits are prohibited under the court order granting Air Canada bankruptcy protection.
The countersuit is in reaction to Air Canada's legal action, which alleges its Calgary rival, Mr. Hill and another WestJet employee unlawfully tapped into an internal Air Canada data base for 240,000 transactions between May, 2003, and last March, to obtain information regarding passenger counts on Air Canada flights.
WestJet is alleged to have used this information to challenge Air Canada on its most profitable routes by adjusting its schedule based on the unlawfully obtained data.
WestJet has denied it used the Air Canada data for commercial purposes. It added the passenger count data are available through the Internet.
Mr. Hill, who was also vice-president for strategic planning, resigned from the company last week. He had been on paid leave.
Curiously, Air Canada lawyers will not oppose WestJet's motion for permission to countersue. In a statement, the airline said it looked forward "to hearing in open court WestJet's explanation for improperly accessing Air Canada's confidential employee Web site approximately a quarter of a million times over a 12-month period."
Air Canada and its lawyers contend WestJet's counterclaim "has no merit" and labelled it as a "diversionary tactic" design to take away attention from the damning evidence amassed to date.
Some of that evidence includes an admission from Mr. Hill that WestJet asked its high-tech department to develop software that would automatically accumulate data from the Air Canada Web site.
In its legal briefing, Air Canada dismissed WestJet's claim that its investigators trespassed and violated Mr. Hill's privacy. Its lawyers argued the trash bins were located on a road open to public access, and the investigators did not set foot on either Mr. Hill's driveway or property.
Moreover, Air Canada said Mr. Hill has no privacy rights when it comes to garbage left to be collected, citing past rulings in the Canadian justice system.