(This column was published in the North Shore News on July 24, 2002)


Airport security charges don't add up

 By Leo Knight

This is the travelling season for many Canadians.


They pack up their families and venture off to cabins, resorts, campgrounds or to visit Great-aunt Doris.


Inasmuch as it is the first summer vacation period since Sept. 11, the government of Canada is going out of its way to tell us what a great job it is doing protecting us and making it safe to travel.


For example, in the waiting lounge at the Calgary airport, there is a government ad on one of the ubiquitous Pattison sign boards, entitled "Protecting our Borders and Skies."


Underneath that promising slogan, there were four photos surrounding a gap-toothed Chinese girl of about eight or nine years old. There is a photo of an Air Canada Airbus with all the logos digitally removed for some strange reason. Below that, a picture of a multiple-lane border crossing with the inevitable lineups.


On the other side of the little girl was a train going over a bridge, again with the logo removed, and finally, a photo of two British Columbian spirit-class ferries in Active Pass. Now, the cynical among you might wonder what the federal government has to do with BC Ferries or indeed, what a photo of BC Ferries has to do with any sort of "protection."


But then, I'm still struggling with the symbolism of the train, not to mention the little Chinese girl. I'm sure someone at one of those eastern ad agencies growing fat on this government's largesse with our money, could explain the logic of it all.


At the bottom of the ad it says you can get your free brochure by calling a 1-800 number or dialling into the main government Web site. Don't rush all at once now. I'll probably forego getting that free brochure. My creative analytical thinking process would go into overload with any more inexplicable symbolism.


But, such advertisements aside, one must wonder what the government is really doing to protect our borders and skies.


Well, apart from taking $24 from every air traveller in Canada for every return flight that is.


The government's masterful inactivity in the wake of Sept. 11 was truly underwhelming. But they eventually got their act together, decided they should do something and announced the $24 security fee, ostensibly to pay for a host of security improvements at our borders and airports.


To date, nothing has evolved from the collection of that money.


Announcements were made last fall about the creation of a federal, professional, airport security organization. A bloody good idea.


Well, they are now busy recruiting security professionals for their new organization. Eight positions in fact. Eight people to act as security advisors nationally is what they have come up with. That's it. Only eight positions.


So let's see. At Vancouver airport there are a couple of hundred flights leaving every day.


But, for argument's sake and for ease of comprehension, let's just say there are only 100. And, again for the sake of argument, let's say there are 100 passengers on each flight.


On that basis, the government has been collecting $240,000 per day with its security tax at Vancouver airport alone since it came into force on April 1. That is one million dollars every four days.


Add in all the other airports across the country and you begin to understand how much money this is generating.


The eight new positions will pay, on average, about $60,000 each per year. Okay, so two days of fees from Vancouver airport will fund their new initiative. Anyone want to guess where the rest of the money is going?


I hope you all feel much safer now.


But, for an example of what this government does when those charged with protecting our border and skies actually do their jobs, let's look at an incident last month at Pearson airport.


The Sun media group reported a story on the weekend which serves to illuminate the Liberal commitment.


On a flight from Greece, Canada Customs agents were taking some extra time examining two men of Middle Eastern origin.


They were travelling on American passports. The customs agents were not satisfied with their answers on the purpose of their trip to Canada. So they probed a little deeper and referred the men to immigration agents for further investigation. In other words they did their job.


In the queue was Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis, who began screaming at the agents, causing a big scene. He was all upset, saying they were "racial profiling."


Turns out the men had criminal records in the United States for violence and drugs.


They decided, after much discussion, that perhaps they didn't really want to come into Canada.


So, a member of the federal government, which spends our money advertising how they are protecting our borders and skies, loudly chastises those trying to do just that, claiming they are being racist.


So, let's see, two Middle Eastern men travelling on American passports trying to enter Canada on a flight from Greece with dubious and questionable responses to agent's questions who have criminal records for drugs and violence, and this Liberal government representative says they are racial profiling?


What an embarrassment to his office. He should be made to apologize to the customs agents and more importantly, to the people of Canada.


But never mind. That will be $24 please. And do you like the billboard?







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