Quebec reality TV stars deny partying on Sunwing flight, say 'we were sleeping'
Some of the roughly 150 Quebec social media stars stranded in Mexico this week after a now-infamous "party flight" say they've been unfairly condemned.
"We don't want to be bashed for things that we didn't do," said Isabelle Labrecque, a Quebec reality TV personality, in an Instagram live video from Mexico alongside two fellow TV stars.
"We were sleeping," she said.
The Dec. 30 Sunwing charter flight included music producers and Instagram influencers, with some less famous plus-ones accompanying them on the trip to Tulum, MX.
Videos posted to social media after the flight showed people drinking, vaping and partying in the aisles without masks.
Canadian federal authorities are also looking at hefty fines for the passengers, with Transport Canada saying they could be slapped with up to $5,000 per offence if they're found to have violated transportation rules.
They're also having trouble finding return flights home after Sunwing cancelled the return charter flight and other airlines said they'd deny them tickets as well.
- READ MORE: Three Canadian airlines refusing to board 'unruly' Quebec influencers returning from Mexico
In a video taken on the original flight and later posted to Instagram, the event's organizer, James William Awad, spoke to passengers through the intercom, saying he had a lot of trouble booking the first flight after a few cancellations, but telling them to "never, never, never give up," and "make some noise."
Awad wrote on Twitter Wednesday that he'll make an official statement on Thursday.
'IT WASN'T ME'
The people involved are also now scrambling to handle public relations disasters of their own, with some of their followers telling them in Instagram comments that they've lost respect for the influencers.
Some have posted videos that have since been deleted, but Labrecque and two co-stars from a reality dating show posted a full response to the incident on Wednesday, saying it has been overblown.
"I knew absolutely no one on that flight except for these two," said Labrecque, alongside Sandrine Séguin and Anna-Maëlle Laprise, who appeared with her on the Quebec reality show L'Île de l'Amour, or Love Island.
"Me, Sandrine and Anna, we were all seated," she said, explaining that she "even did a TikTok" and anyone who watched it would have noticed her outfit, which was not the same as the outfit of a girl later captured partying in the aisle, who happened to resemble her.
"You can see it's not the same outfit at all. So, it wasn't me," she said.
The three women say "we were sleeping" and "we were dead [asleep]" on the flight, with Labrecque insisting that only "a minority" of passengers were partying, while most were well-behaved.
"We're not minimizing what happened on the flight," she said, but the media has "sensationalized" it.
Besides, she said, the flight happened before Quebec brought in its new slew of COVID-19 rules.
"We hadn't even seen François Legault's press conference," she said. "All flights were 100 per cent legal -- everyone was going on vacation."
The new rules don't change travel requirements but, as of New Year's Eve, the government instituted a 10 p.m. curfew across Quebec and delayed the return to school, among other things, as cases reached their highest levels during the pandemic.
Labrecque is a pilot herself, having posted many videos to TikTok in the last year about the process of obtaining her commercial pilot's licence.
She said in her video this week that she and her two friends "don't identify at all" with the other passengers' behaviour: they didn't drink alcohol, they are all double-vaccinated and they took multiple COVID-19 tests, "just like everyone."
She also took issue with the term "influencer" being used to describe people on the flight.
Another famous Quebec figure, Karl Sabourin, who appeared on the reality show "Occupation Double," was also on the trip and helped publicize it. He hasn't posted a response to the criticism.
Laprise thanked fans for listening to her explanation, but also asked people to stop sending angry messages.
"It's not necessary to send hate mail," she said. "It happened. We need to just live with it."