(This column was published in the North Shore News on June 19, 2002)


Isn't that a cow flying by?

 By Leo Knight

PHOENIX, Arizona - Sitting at the airport in this desert city baking under the early summer sun, I saw a young Arab man enter the lounge.


My first thought was, I wonder if he's on my flight?


In the days and months since Sept. 11, I have flown perhaps 15 or more times. Changes to security, while desperately needed in the aftermath of that terrible day, have frequently been puzzling.


Nail clippers can't be carried through baggage screening in Vancouver, but don't seem to be an issue in Edmonton.


One of the more interesting (and annoying) things about airport security, post 9/11 is having to turn on things like laptops and Palm Pilots. I, like most people, have gotten used to removing these things and going through the motions of turning them on and off. It is quite annoying though to interrupt the boot process so the next time one uses their laptop, it requires a "defrag" at least. But a small price to pay for safety or so one might think.


A little before seeing the young Arab man, while going through the tight security at one of the busiest airports in the United States, one notices that security is not asking travellers to turn on electronic devices. The items are merely removed from inside of carrying cases and run through the X-ray machines.


A little perplexed, I asked a Phoenix police officer standing at the checkpoint, overlooking the security screening process. Why not turn the machines on to ensure they are "real?"


Because, said the officer, we know how to read the X-rays, looking at me as though I'm growing a carrot out of the second head on my right shoulder.


So, if I have this straight, we are now paying $24 to have someone who seems challenged to speak English, asking travellers to turn on their laptops etc. simply to appear that they have heightened security at airports.


Fortunately, the security tax is in Chrétien dollarettes and not real money. But, I'm sure the prime minister and the sophists in his cabinet will do the right thing with our money. Especially with the new ethics rules he has imposed on our parliamentarians. Hey, isn't that a cow flying by?


Don't get me wrong, I'm all for increased security at our airports. And frankly, I wouldn't mind paying the $24 security tax if the money was actually used to make the skies safer for the travelling public. But it isn't.


The security fee, now charged at the main domestic and international terminal at YVR, is also charged, for example, at the south terminal for charter flights to such security hot spots as Ganges Harbour on Salt Spring.


It would appear that it is really about stealing as much money from our pockets as Chrétien's Liberals think they can get away with.


But, it's not just the 24 bucks that annoys me. Example: an Arab male in his mid-20s in Canada on a student's visa boards a flight to Vancouver in Terrace.


The security check is as minimal as one could possibly imagine in the post-Sept. 11 world.


Arriving in Vancouver at YVR, he disembarks his small aircraft behind the security cordon and makes his way to a direct flight to New York or Washington or wherever. Never having once passed through the "heavier security measures" touted by the Canadian government.


Then there is the Algerian or Iranian student in Canada travelling on a flight to Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C. At the security checkpoint, he is relieved of his Swiss Army pocket card with its one-inch blade, toothpick and nail file.


Unperturbed, he stops at the duty free and picks up a bottle of premium vodka with an eight-inch extended neck which he can carry onto the aircraft. As soon as the plane nears D.C., the radical youth stands and smashes the vodka bottle on the seat arm waving the remainder, a nine-inch jagged bottle top capable of slicing into a man's chest with a minimum of effort. In fact, it is significantly more effective than the "box cutters" made infamous on Sept. 11.


With these thoughts in mind, as I looked at the young Arab male, I silently breathed a prayer of thanks that we were in the United States, having come through real security and not having to worry about someone on my flight having been cleared through the charade that is the airplane screening at Vancouver airport.


I know I shouldn't be looking suspiciously at the Arab male in the lounge simply because of his ethnicity. But, as near as I can tell, there haven't been any threats against Western society from second generation Italian grandmothers. Nor are we at war against Chinese shopkeepers.


And that is the other problem. Taking a second look at a youthful male from a Middle East country is not "racial profiling," it is prudent. Doing random secondary inspections on every eighth person regardless of racial origin or profile is simply stupid and a waste of time, energy and money.


We are not at war with Ireland, Spain or gray-haired grannies from Saskatoon. Racial profiling from a security point of view is not "racist," it is what must be done. Political correctness is a luxury not available to our society in time of war. There is a significant difference between racism and pragmatism. We would all do well to remember that.






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