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Ottawa has no plans to profile passengers

[PoliticsWatch updated 10:00 a.m. August 16, 2006]

OTTAWA  — Transport Canada told PoliticsWatch Tuesday it has no plans to introduce a controversial profiling system of airline passengers similar to that being considered in Britain in the wake of last week's terror arrests. 

Transport Canada says they do not screen passengers based on any type of profile. 

"That's not something that's in place here and it's not something that we're considering at this time," Vanessa Vermette, a spokesperson with Transport Canada, told PoliticsWatch.

"Passengers are screened when they go to an airport and board an aircraft. Their persons and belongings are screened by CATSA," but that's the extent of the screening, according to Vermette. 

Passengers in airports have faced greater delays for the past week after police broke up an alleged plot to sneak liquid explosives aboard as many as 10 airliners bound for the U.S. and blow them up while in flight. 

The discovery of the plot has created a new level of screening for passengers and their carry on luggage.

Transport Canada is telling passengers to place liquids or gels, including beverages and toothpaste, in checked baggage.

The restrictions are to be in place "until further notice," according to Transport Canada. 

Britain, where the alleged terror plot was hatched, has seem some of the longest delays and the government is considering focusing more on passengers than baggage.

In a story headlined "Muslims face extra checks in new travel crackdown," The Times of London reported Tuesday that the UK government was in discussions with private airport operators to tighten up the screening process.

"The government is discussing with airport operators plans to introduce a screening system that allows security staff to focus on those passengers who pose the greatest risk," the Times reported.

"The passenger-profiling technique involves selecting people who are behaving suspiciously, have an unusual travel pattern or, most controversially, have a certain ethnic or religious background."

The Times of London article said those who match the profile would undergo "extra checks" as officials at the UK Department for Transport believe that it will greatly reduce queues at security gates. 

The report that the UK is considering the plan has already received condemnation from Muslim groups in the UK. 

While Transport Canada has not said the new restrictions on carry-on luggage is permanent, terrorism experts interviewed by PoliticsWatch expect the current restrictions to remain in place and leave open the possibility of additional security such as what is being considered in the UK. 

"We continue on the basis of non-racial profiling and non-religious screening," said David Harris, director of the international and terrorist intelligence program at INSIGNIS Strategic Research Inc.

"If things continue to deteriorate as they are deteriorating, I don't know what the possibilities are in the future, however."

John Thompson, a terrorism expert and president of the Mackenzie Institute, said the profiling the UK is considering is "requirement colliding with political correctness and requirement is winning." 

Thompson said that it will be months before airports can efficiently screen everyone for carrying liquid explosives. 

"They can't treat everyone the same," he said. "They are going to have to specialize and look out for particular persons."

While the government currently has no plan to increase profiling by screeners at airports, if the practice becomes the norm in other Western countries, Canada may have no choice but to follow the lead.

"We're going to be constrained to pay attention to what our allies are doing if only because Canada will not want to be regarded by terrorists as the weakest link," said Harris.

Thompson agreed with the need for greater security and checks at airports, but he also expressed some concern about more and more encroachment on the public's ability to travel. 

"Somewhere at the back of my brain I'm a civil libertarian too and I don't like these measures, but I can recognize these necessities," he said.

"The problem is 25 or 30 years from now when the jihad movement dies away we'll still have the system up."

: Related Links

> The Montreal terror connection 

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