SASKATOON – A 69-year-old senator from Manitoba and his 23-year-old wife marked their first anniversary—the paper anniversary—on Monday with a court document keeping the newlyweds apart. Maygan Sensenberger has made headlines around the world since her arrest on a plane when it landed last Thursday in Saskatoon.
Police alleged she caused a disturbance on the flight, yelled about bringing down the plane and threatened her spouse, Sen. Rod Zimmer. But a witness says Sensenberger was simply worried about her husband’s health and wanted him to get help for breathing problems he was having during the flight.
Sensenberger’s family says it was not unusual for the young woman to be worried about her partner — she easily got upset about his heath.
“She gets upset easy if anything’s wrong with her husband,” Sensenberger’s 68-year-old grandmother, Rita, said Monday from her home in Collingwood, Ont. “He is quite a bit older than Maygan and she does worry a lot about him … if she thought there was something wrong with Rod she would be very, very upset.”
The trouble started, according to fellow passenger Scott Wright, when Sensenberger got upset after Zimmer started feeling tightness in his chest on an Air Canada flight from Ottawa to Saskatoon.
Wright, a former ambulance attendant, volunteered when the crew asked for anyone with medical experience to help the senator. The couple was sitting near the back of the plane, he said, and Sensenberger was emotionally distraught.
Wright said it sounded like Zimmer was struggling a bit to breathe, although the senator told him it may have been caused by a previous medical condition. Zimmer also spoke of a previous incident that happened a few days prior.
The crew gave Zimmer some oxygen and he started feeling better, but his wife was still upset and they fought over his condition.
“All of the frustration she expressed while I was there was targeted around the medical condition and the health of her husband.
“I never at any time felt threatened.”
Wright said he and several other passengers did their best to help. The crew asked Wright if he believed they needed to land early, but when Zimmer began to feel better, the decision was made to continue on to Saskatoon.
Sensenberger continued to be upset, he said. Zimmer said he was feeling fine but she felt his medical condition was affecting his judgment.
“She saw us doing the primary work so she was continuing to speak out. She was continuing to say, ‘What’s happening? Is he OK? Tell me he’s going to be OK. Why aren’t you doing more? Why aren’t you doing something?’
“She did pause to yell at one or two of the other passengers who were peering over or trying to see what was going on,” Wright said. “There was the odd profanity offered.”
He said Sensenberger didn’t lash out physically at anyone on the plane but she did have a tussle with her husband.
“The only grabbing and pushing I saw was between her and him as he was trying to calm her and nudge the hand over and settle her down,” Wright said.
“There was the heated conversation around, ‘I’m done with this,’ or ‘You’re not listening to me.’ But no, ‘I’m going to kill you.’ No threats, nothing like that.”
Police have said Sensenberger created a huge disturbance that got worse as the plane neared Saskatoon. But they reported that no one was injured and the safety of the aircraft was not compromised.
Court records show police believe Sensenberger uttered threats against her husband and threatened to take down the plane.
Police and ambulance staff met the plane when it landed. Wright said Zimmer walked off the aircraft by himself.
Sensenberger was arrested and charged with endangering the safety of the aircraft and causing a disturbance.
She first appeared in court Friday but was held in custody over the weekend. On Monday, their first-year wedding anniversary, according to their Facebook page, the judge released her on several conditions, including that she have no contact with her husband. She was also banned from drinking alcohol and being in licensed establishments.
Zimmer sat in the front row of the courtroom during the appearance. He then left through a back door, as his wife walked out the front and rushed by reporters into a waiting black car.
She is to appear again Tuesday in a specific courtroom set aside to hear domestic violence cases.
The court offers an option for those who plead guilty and are willing to take responsibility for their actions. The court’s website says the accused can receive a reduced sentence after completing counselling or attending substance abuse programs.
Rita Sensenberger said she’s relieved her granddaughter is no longer in jail.
“I just feel sorry for my baby. She is a very sweet girl.”
She said her granddaughter grew up in Collingwood, just north of Toronto. She was a ballet dancer turned aspiring actor. She moved away from home when she married Zimmer and was taking college classes in Ottawa
She said the couple met on a blind date.
“They’ve been together for years, they waited until after she had her 21st birthday to announce that they were together.”
Zimmer, a Liberal, was appointed to the Canadian upper chamber in 2005 by then prime minister Paul Martin.
A Facebook page was started in 2010, called “Rod Zimmer & Maygan Sensenberger’s Wedding Page.
Photos from the page, as well as Sensenberger’s Facebook page — shots of the couple on the Parliament grounds on their wedding day, boarding a private jet, cuddling with a small dog —have been published by media around the world.
Many headlines highlight the couple’s age difference, such as the New York Daily News: “Woman, 23, charged with disrupting flight in argument with 69-year-old Canadian senator hubby.”
The story also made London’s Daily Mail, with sensational phrases like “meltdown in the sky” and “good-time girl.”
“I’m a little surprised to see, frankly, the profile this has gotten, and I think it’s been blown significantly out of proportion,” Wright said. “I’ve seen a number of reports that have touched on things like age and status that have absolutely nothing to do with what’s happened here.”
Rita Sensenberger said she isn’t concerned about the age difference between her granddaughter and Zimmer, who she calls a “very nice man.”
“They’re both happy, so what difference does age make? You can’t help who you fall in love with.”
— By Rob Drinkwater and Chris Purdy in Edmonton with files from CKOM in Saskatoon.