Canadian airport pat-downs to be polite: Ottawa

OTTAWA—Canadian airport screeners have no plans to introduce the kind of “provocative” pat-downs that have sparked protests and riled passengers at airports across the United States, Transport Minister Chuck Strahl says.

“Canadians obviously have a right to expect to be treated properly and respectfully at airports,” Strahl told reporters Wednesday.

“While the Americans have instituted a more intensive … pat-down technique, that’s not happening in Canada. … They have no intention of doing that,” he said in the House of Commons’ foyer.

But at the same time, the Canada Border Services Agency is looking at arming officers who work the front lines at international airports. The agency, which began arming officers at land and marine border crossings in 2006, is taking a fresh look at the “threat of bodily harm or death” to its airport employees.

It wants to study whether they should carry firearms, too.

“Officers sometimes find themselves in situations where they must deal with aggressive behaviour on the part of the public. This behaviour may include anything from threatening gestures … to an unprovoked assault,” the agency said in a tender call for the study released Wednesday.

Aviation security has been in the headlines all week as American security officials scramble to cope with passenger outrage after introducing aggressive new pat-down procedures that involve feeling around the groin and chest areas.

Coupled with new body scanners that produce nude-like images of passengers’ bodies, meant to reveal any hidden weapons, U.S. air travellers are pushing back against what they say are invasive procedures.

But what’s intrusive to some is just another day for Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, who told reporters Wednesday: “I have people touching my private parts all day long.”

Ignatieff said that his constant travel means that he essentially lives in airports and has some sympathy for the screeners.

“I’ve long ceased worrying about these issues. We have to keep this country safe and the people I feel strongly in support of are the hardworking security scanners. It’s not a great job. It’s tough. You’re wearing rubber gloves all day long.”

Ignatieff says he’s been through all kinds of security, even the full-body scanners. “I don’t know what they can see. I don’t think it’s a pretty sight. I don’t want to know.”

Strahl called the new U.S. procedures “pretty provocative” but stressed that the kind of controversial physical searches that have popped up on YouTube videos aren’t happening here in Canada.

Still, he said privacy screens would be introduced at Canadian airports to help shield passengers while they undergo a physical pat-down.

Asked whether the ever-increasing scrutiny at security checkpoints risks turning people off air travel, Strahl said Canada has little choice, especially for international flights.

“We have obligations if we want to preclear people here in Canada who fly down to the United States that we have to meet Department of Homeland Security regulations,” Strahl said.”What we have to ensure is that we strike the right balance between being respectful, treating travellers properly … while still ensuring that we get the security done,” he said.

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