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Crackdown is cosmetic, Canada still vulnerable to aviation terrorism, expert says

 

 
 
 
Air Canada passengers wait in line to check baggage at Pearson International Airport in Toronto.
 

Air Canada passengers wait in line to check baggage at Pearson International Airport in Toronto.

Photograph by: File, Reuters

A security crackdown on airline travel to the United States is a superficial fix to grave problems with Canada’s airport-safety system, says an expert who contends this country remains very vulnerable to aviation terrorism.

“It’s cosmetic,” said Peter St. John told Canwest News Service on Saturday.

“‘Reaction security’ is not good security. ‘Pre-emptive security’ is what you need. You need to be anticipating who’s going to be doing what. That’s what good intelligence is about.”

Transport Canada, along with governments around the world, on Saturday implemented temporary security measures for flights to the U.S., including bag and body searches at gates, after a Nigerian man tried unsuccessfully to detonate an explosive device on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.

“It should be a wake-up call,” St. John said of what officials in the U.S. are calling a botched Christmas Day terror attack.

St. John, a retired university professor who has written extensively on airport security, aviation hijacking and international terrorism, said Canada’s airport-security system is porous and vulnerable to terrorism.

Transport Canada should focus more on hiring highly trained security professionals in airports instead of more expensive technology, St. John said.

“We’ve flirted with the idea of machines that can spot everything . . . but we’ve never developed proper human security,” he said. “In all intelligence matters . . . and counter-security . . . it’s always the personnel that find the problems — good, well-trained personnel who know what they’re doing and know what they’re looking for. If you’re not prepared to pay for these people and not prepared to put proper security in place, bombs are going to be let off.”

St. John has also long advocated for stricter security measures such as an outright ban on carry-on baggage, as well as a policy that prohibits passengers’ luggage from being on a flight if the owner isn’t — for any reason.

“I don’t understand why a country like Canada that’s so good militarily and has got so many techniques it has developed in war and conflict, cannot develop a proper security system,” he said. “It’s just simply a question of (terrorists) trying, before one of these things really works because of the poor defences. It was poor defences and bad airport security that led to 9/11.”

Canada’s aviation security system lags far behind many other developed nations, St. John said.

He places the blame on Transport Canada.

“I think they are the most inefficient organization ever invented,” he said. “They’re large. They’re sprawling. They’re . . . putting off all their responsibility onto airport managers and the (Canadian Air Transport Security Authority).”

St. John even pointed to Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski’s death at the Vancouver International Airport in 2007 as a failure of leadership and co-ordination airport security.

Dziekanski died after being repeatedly Tasered by RCMP officers.

Liberal Senator Colin Kenny, chair of the Standing Committee on National Security and Defence, has repeatedly raised the alarm about high rates of security breaches at Canadian airports over the past decade.

Earlier this year, Kenny and Transport Minister John Baird highlighted the security problems at Pearson International Airport Toronto airport by walking onto the tarmac and other restricted areas — actions security failed to stop.

St. John said the Air India tragedy in 1985, when a flight en route to Bombay from Montreal blew up mid-air and killed 329 people, also should have served as a wake-up call to Canadians. He said it didn’t.

“We don’t seemed to have learned a lesson in Canada,” he said. “We don’t look as if we’re going to learn it. I only see a major disaster that might change our system. We have not been shaken up like the Americans were in 9/11. ”

Transport Canada officials issued a prepared statement about the new security measures Saturday, but refused to do any further interviews.

 
 
Air Canada passengers wait in line to check baggage at Pearson International Airport in Toronto.
 

Air Canada passengers wait in line to check baggage at Pearson International Airport in Toronto.

Photograph by: File, Reuters