Email Exchange With Canada's Transport Minister

Christopher Rath

2006-09-19 (updated 2007-03-08)

Transport Canada is the Canadian Federal Government Department responsible for airline security in Canada.  My letter to the Minister and the subsequent email exchanges follow one another here.  See the bottom of the page for the most recent correspondence.

It is clear from the letters from the Minister's office that the government consciously intends there to be no public accountability for airline security measures. When I challenged the Minister's office, the response is to say, "Don't worry.  Everything is being done for your good."  In reference to public accountability, I found it particularly disingenuous when the Minister's office hid behind the Auditor General since the day after I sent my second email to the Minister's office the Auditor General's report was released wherein the Auditor General reported that there is "too much secrecy" surrounding airline security.

From: Christopher Rath < >
Sent: 19 September, 2006 12:00
To: Minister, Transport Canada <mintc@tc.gc.ca>
CC: Stephen Harper <Harper.S@parl.gc.ca>; Royal Galipeau <Galipeau.R@parl.gc.ca> ; Lawrence Cannon <Cannon.L@parl.gc.ca>
Subject: Airport security madness

Dear Minister of Transportation,

In writing this email I am formally requesting a reply from your office. Please see the specific question below.

In my work as a consultant, I travel by air on business 50 weeks a year. I have been doing this weekly travel for about 3 years, have traveled regularly on business for more than 20 years, and my level of frustration with the airport security rules is mounting. The latest ban on liquids is yet another poorly thought out and pointless rule tossed into a sea of such nonsense, and I am writing to plead for Canada to take positive, rational action in the area of air travel security.

From my perspective as a very frequent air traveler, the current security rules do little to make air travel safe while expending an enormous amount of time and money. The ban on liquids is not even the latest silly rule being imposed upon Canadian air travelers: now, those traveling to the US must remove their shoes when going through security---another "rule" that has no identifiable basis in risk reduction and threat identification.

This email is a formal request for a response to the following four-part question: what is the process used to decide upon the air travel security rules, what ongoing review process is used to ensure that the rules actually accomplish the intended purpose, when rules are not resulting in success what process is used to amend the rules, and what public accountability is being brought to bear upon these processes?

From what I can see, the rules only exist to mollify US politicians; that is, from what I can determine, most of the rules have no basis in any credible scientific process. If disease testing had the false positive rate that your current air travel rules exhibit, the testing would be abandoned as pointless. The same rigour should be applied to air travel security as we apply to medical testing---assuming that the purpose of the rules is to make travel safer.

An American journalist has labelled the current air travel procedures "ritual passenger abuse", and I have to agree. A rational approach to security would be objective focus upon the passengers; whereas our current approach focussed on the baggage, or other ancillary items (such as whether I bought a one-way or open-jaws ticket). It is passengers who highjack/blow-up aircraft, and as such they should be the focus of air travel security rules. The current approach appears to be to hassle and abuse passengers in the hope that some of us may decide not to travel.

Lastly, the latest insult hurled at passengers was news coverage of a plan to target passengers based upon their appearance at the airport (that is, subjective measures instead of objective measures). I listened to an interview with a security official advocating this approach who gave as an example a passenger who looked contemptuously at the security officials as someone who obviously needed extra scrutiny. This is nonsense: I have complete and utter contempt for everyone who works in the airport security business, since anyone who would take those jobs is lacking in personal integrity---anyone who can look me in the eye and tell me that they must break the 2 cm nail file off my nail clippers because the nail file is a security risk lacks personal integrity.

The current risk to security is the system itself, not the air travelers.

Regards,
Christopher


From: Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities / Ministre des Transports, de l'infrastructure et des Collectivités <mintc@tc.gc.ca>
Sent: Wed 2006-12-13 15:06
To: Christopher Rath < >
Subject: Airport Security

Dear Mr. Rath:

Thank you for your correspondence of September 19, 2006, to the Honourable Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, regarding airport security. The Minister has asked me to reply on his behalf.

As you may be aware, on September 26, 2006, Canada's new Government revised the aviation security measures introduced in August concerning passengers bringing liquids, gels and aerosols through security screening at Canadian airports. These items must be in containers 100 ml (or equivalent) or less, and containers must fit into one transparent, closed and resealable plastic bag with a capacity of no more than one litre (or equivalent).

On September 26, 2006, Transport Canada also took further steps to restore retail sales of liquids, gels and aerosols to normal in all airport areas beyond passenger screening subject to some conditions. For more information on this change, I would invite you to visit the department's website at www.tc.gc.ca/mediaroom/publicnotice/menu.htm. Transport Canada is confident that these changes accommodate passenger needs without compromising security.

With respect to your questions on Transport Canada's rule-making process, I should explain that the department develops aviation security regulations in line with the demands of the Canadian aviation security environment. Aviation security requirements are developed only after the department assesses risk and the overall impact of proposed requirements on passenger convenience, infrastructure and the aviation industry. The department routinely reviews the standards established by other organizations and countries in order to achieve security and efficiency while minimizing the inconvenience to passengers travelling to or from Canada. Consultations with stakeholders, such as the screening authority, airlines and airports, also play a major role in Transport Canada's decision-making process.

Canada's aviation security system is a risk-based, integrated, multi-layered approach that is regularly reviewed and adjusted to meet the needs of a changing environment. Limiting what items can be brought onto an aircraft is one layer of security. Such restrictions are intended to protect the Canadian public, passengers and economic interests, and are consistent with actions of our international partners.

You may be interested to learn that Transport Canada evaluates not only vulnerabilities and levels of threat and risk, but also industry best practices, training, and the harmonization of Canada's approach compared with that taken by its trading partners. Furthermore, I would note that European countries amended their aviation security measures on November 6, 2006, to harmonize with those implemented in the United States and Canada.

I would point out that your opinion of those working in the airport security business is indeed unfortunate, as those providing aviation security services act in the interest of protecting Canadians and maintaining the strength of Canada's economy.

With respect to determining what items should be permitted or prohibited on board passenger aircraft, I assure you that Transport Canada's top priorities remain the safety and security of the Canadian transportation system. Restrictions are subject to change as the department continues to monitor the situation and make adjustments as necessary. The actions taken regarding liquids, aerosols and gels are aligned with the department's objective of ensuring a secure, effective and efficient transportation system. For more details and updates, please visit the Transport Canada website regularly at www.tc.gc.ca/en/menu.htm, or the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority website at www.catsa-acsta.gc.ca.

I trust that the foregoing has clarified the department's position with respect to this matter. Again, thank you for writing.

Yours truly,

Andrew Walasek
Special Assistant - Ontario


From: Christopher Rath < >
Sent: Thu 2006-12-14 19:23
To: Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities / Ministre des Transports, de l'infrastructure et des Collectivités <mintc@tc.gc.ca>
CC: Stephen Harper <Harper.S@parl.gc.ca>; Royal Galipeau <Galipeau.R@parl.gc.ca> ; Lawrence Cannon <Cannon.L@parl.gc.ca>
Subject: RE: Airport Security

Dear Andrew Walasek,

Thank you for replying on behalf of the Minister.

Before responding to the content of your email, let me repeat the four questions I asked in my original message to the Minister:

  1. What is the process used to decide upon the air travel security rules,
  2. What ongoing review process is used to ensure that the rules actually accomplish the intended purpose.
  3. When rules are not resulting in success what process is used to amend the rules, and
  4. What public accountability is being brought to bear upon these processes?

Based upon the information you communicated, here is my understanding of the present situation:

I was already very aware of the Department’s rules and position regarding liquids, and your reiteration of those rules did not educate me further---what would have helped my understanding would have been an articulation of the actual risks (if any) the Government believes is posed by liquids. Note, it is not sufficient for the Department to state that “terrorists might use liquids to cause an explosion onboard an aircraft”; since a university study published shortly after the rules went into effect demonstrated that the possibility of this being done is so close to zero as to be impossible---real facts and evidence need to be presented in order to justify this reduction in personal liberty.

Your statement that Canada’s position is “consistent with actions of our international partners.” is particularly galling given that I wrote asking how CANADA justifies its own airline security rules: Canada should never justify its actions by using the “everybody else is doing it” excuse. I don’t accept that justification from my own children and I don’t allow myself the luxury of that excuse, so why would I accept that as a excuse from my government?

You noted in your reply that European countries have “harmonized” (sic)---note: in Canada, harmonised is spelled with an ‘s’---their rules to conform with those of the United States. I did not know this, and it disappoints me to see that they too have become slaves to American paranoia. By the way, if there truly is a risk, please ask the Minister to publish what the risk is instead of playing nanny-state and telling me to “trust” that the Government knows best.

Lastly, my original questions regarding public accountability and review still stand. Please tell the Minister that I am still awaiting a reply to those questions, and please tell me where I must inquire to obtain answers to them.

Regards
Christopher


From: Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities / Ministre des Transports, de l'infrastructure et des Collectivités <mintc@tc.gc.ca>
Sent: Tue 2007-01-30 15:28
To: Christopher Rath < >
Subject: Airport Security.

Dear Mr. Rath:

Thank you for your correspondence of December 14, 2006, which was further to our previous exchange of correspondence regarding airport security.

I appreciate your additional comments on this issue and can provide the following information in response.

First, regarding your comments about the restriction of liquids, aerosols and gels and the issue of harmonization with international partners, as you are aware, Transport Canada initially banned the transportation of all liquids, aerosols and gels through pre-board screening in response to a foiled terrorist plot in August 2006, in which it was alleged that terrorists intended to use liquid explosives in sealed beverage containers to destroy several aircraft bound for North America from the United Kingdom. After an extensive assessment of the ongoing threat, and in coordination with the United States and the United Kingdom, this ban was adjusted gradually to allow passengers to carry limited quantities of liquids, aerosols and gels. These changes were intended to accommodate air travellers' needs to bring essential toiletries and other liquids, gels and aerosols in their carry-on baggage while maintaining an enhanced level of security.

One of Transport Canada's principal responsibilities is to make adjustments to all components of aviation security, including the prohibited items list, when the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities is of the opinion that there is a threat or potential threat to the safety and security of the travelling public and aviation infrastructure. Failure to act in the above-described circumstances could have compromised aviation security.

Responding to threats to aviation security is a global effort that requires the cooperation of international partners. The incident in the United Kingdom impacted Canadian airports and flights to Canada. To address such threats, Transport Canada strives, to the extent practicable, to harmonize Canada's security requirements with those of other key countries, and to meet or exceed standards and practices set by the International Civil Aviation Organization, of which Canada is a member. The department develops its security regime on the basis of threat and risk and on what is appropriate to Canada's aviation security environment.

Second, concerning the issue of public scrutiny and accountability, Transport Canada, like all government departments, reports to Parliament on policies, programs and legislation under its mandate. Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, Transport Canada's aviation security regulatory framework has been under constant scrutiny by the media and by various agencies of the government, including the Auditor General. Internally, the department continually reviews its aviation security standards and practices through established training, audits and aviation security quality control programs. Transport Canada also engages the aviation industry and other stakeholders, including the public, in developing security requirements that are appropriate to Canada.

Third, regarding the question of publication of banned items, as you are aware, Transport Canada, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, air carriers and airport operators made every effort to inform passengers of these changes through websites, news releases, public notices and signage at airports. However, not all security measures or security-related information is appropriate for publication, including the underlying threat rationale and the potential impact of not addressing the threat and risk gap, as disclosure of such information could compromise aviation security.

Finally, I would like to emphasize that Transport Canada is continually reviewing security requirements and that the department's primary goal in this ongoing review remains the safety and security of the travelling public and Canada's aviation infrastructure.

Please be assured that your comments are appreciated.

Yours truly,

 

Andrew Walasek
Special Assistant - Ontario


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Last updated: 2007/03/08 @ 19:16:11 ( )