Major gaps in security discovered at Canadian airports : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

POSTED AT 3:36 AM EST Thursday, November 08

Major gaps in security discovered at airports

By JAN WONG From Thursday's Globe and Mail

Security on Canadian airlines is still failing to prevent people from boarding flights with the same implements used as weapons in the Sept. 11 hijackings. In the past week a Globe and Mail reporter boarded four domestic Air Canada flights, variously equipped with a box cutter, an X-Acto knife and an assortment of penknives.

Despite heightened awareness and millions of dollars in enhanced safety measures, security guards did not detect most of the cutters and knives.

At checkpoints in Toronto and Victoria, they confiscated items such as folding scissors and nail clippers. The flights were from Toronto to Vancouver to Victoria to Calgary and back to Toronto.

Have your say on this story. Send an e-mail On board one flight, the reporter displayed a box cutter on her tray table for about 90 minutes. No one took it away. A flight attendant asked about it only as the plane was landing. Later, outside on the exit ramp, the reporter voluntarily handed over the box cutter to the flight attendant and a ground agent.

"It's clearly unacceptable," said Louis Turpin, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Toronto Airports Authority, which runs Pearson International Airport. "We're in a very tough area of trying to elevate a system that was designed for one level of threat and literally catapult it overnight to deal with another level of threat."

Transport Canada launched an inquiry into the "alleged security breach" Wednesday. "We take any alleged security breach very seriously," said Robert Greenslade, a spokesman for Transport Canada.

An Air Canada spokewoman accused The Globe of "knowingly and willingly breaching security in pursuit of a story," and said the airline would co-operate with Transport Canada.

"The paper has done nothing illegal," said The Globe's editor, Richard Addis. "The purpose of the paper's investigation was to help show if Canada is properly prepared to deal with the new threats to air travellers. Transport Canada is missing the point by investigating our reporter instead of fixing their own security systems."

Jim Crawford, manager of airport operations at Wackenhut of Canada Ltd., the private company handling passenger checkpoints at Pearson, did not respond to calls seeking comment.

In the two months since the Sept. 11 suicide hijackings in the United States claimed more than 4,000 lives, the government and the airlines say they have improved aviation safety. Published reports have mentioned a tripled RCMP presence at airports.

But enforcement may be more talk than action. Repeated calls to Transport Canada failed to elicit much information on anything that has changed in airport security. The spokesman referred the reporter to the department's Web site.

The government is urging Canadians to travel again, before the economy really tanks. But airline traffic has declined 15 to 20 per cent domestically and overseas. It's down 40 per cent to the United States. The public remains spooked, perhaps understandably so.

This week, four young men were arrested at Gatwick airport in Britain after customs officers found an arsenal of weapons in their checked luggage that had gone undetected when they boarded their flight at Sandford airport near Orlando, Fla. The weapons included a stun gun, two knives, four knuckle dusters and a can of pepper spray. One of them, 21-year-old Ben Harrington, has been charged with possessing an offensive weapon.

A spokesman for the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said there was nothing illegal about packing knives in checked suitcases. But he said security guards should have scrutinized such passengers.

On Saturday, a 27-year-old Nepalese man was arrested in Chicago trying to board a United Airlines flight to Omaha with seven knives, a stun gun and Mace. He was arrested, released, then rearrested when he came back to the airport to pick up his checked bags, which had been put on the flight without him.

Last week, a man boarded a flight from New Orleans to Phoenix inadvertently carrying a loaded gun in his briefcase. In Atlanta, a man realized that he had a pistol in his pocket after passing unchallenged through security checks.

Hugh Garber, an interior decorator in Toronto, returned from a vacation in Italy five days after the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. He said the cockpit door was open the entire time on his Lufthansa flight from Florence to Frankfurt.

Normally, by this time of year, Mr. Garber books trips to Colorado and Florida. Not this year.

"Right now I'm very happy to not have any plans," he said. "I just want to stay home and work."

According to a Transport Canada press release, "Making air travel more secure," the federal government is investing $79-million for new equipment. It is also allocating $12-million a year for security and antiterrorism staff.

The same press release also cites increased passenger screening and hand searches of carry-on bags. "New measures have been introduced to further prohibit small knives and knife-like objects that could be used as weapons in carry-on baggage." Transport Canada has also banned knives from airport restaurants in secure zones.

For its part, Air Canada, which dominates the market in Canada, has reinforced cockpit doors on 190 of its aircraft. The airline plans to fix the remaining 30 aircraft in the next few weeks, according to spokeswoman Laura Cooke.

Air Canada now requires ID, such as a passport or driver's licence, at ticket counters and boarding gates. Economy-class passengers are limited to one carry-on bag, plus one "business-related" item such as a laptop or briefcase, Ms. Cooke said. Passengers in business class are allowed one carry-on plus two "business-related" items.

None of this stopped a Globe reporter. In fairness, security is a Herculean task. Going through every single bag would paralyze the system. And all the security in the world won't keep passengers safe when some people's hands are lethal weapons. As The Globe's attempts show, it's still quite easy to get prohibited items onto an aircraft.

"We would all like technology to be the answer," said Mr. Turpin of Pearson Airport. But, he said, there is no "magic machine."

-- Martin Thompson (, November 08, 2001

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