Toronto SUN lifts the veil on airport security in Canada
- August 1, 2010
Lifting the veil on airport security
Air security won't ask for veiled Muslims to prove ID
By Brian Lilley
and Bryn Weese,
The Sunday SUN, Toronto
OTTAWA – Frequent flyers know the drill: take off your shoes, surrender your tweezers and pack your shampoo in those little plastic baggies before lining up for the naked body scanners. But lift your niqab? Apparently not.
QMI Agency can reveal that neither airlines nor security services are asking Muslim women to lift their veils and prove that the face beneath matches their photo ID.
The issue came to light through a video taken by Mick Flynn of Bradford, England. Flynn was boarding a flight at Montreal’s Trudeau International Airport when he witnessed two women with their faces covered board an Air Canada Heathrow bound flight without being asked to remove their veils.
In fact, in the video that Flynn has posted online, a man traveling with the group hands in all the passports and is the only one to interact with airline staff while two veiled women simply walk through.
"I complained at the desk — and again as I boarded the plane — asking if the pilot was happy that two women boarded without being identified," Flynn told QMI Agency. "Both members of staff whom I spoke to were flustered and clearly embarrassed."
Flynn’s communication with Air Canada and his video posting have resulted in a threatened lawsuit from the airline. As for answers from the company about security procedures, their response reveals holes in Canada’s air security.
"Airline passengers have already undergone multiple security checks before arriving at the boarding gate," Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick told QMI. "A final check is made at the gate prior to boarding in order to confirm passengers on the flight."
Air Canada says it is capable of checking identification in a private room away from the check-in counter, but said the real responsibility for security measures lies with CATSA, the Canadian Air Transport Security Agency.
Not so, says CATSA.
Greg MacDougall, a spokesman for CATSA, tells QMI that their guards are primarily looking for metal, weapons or other banned material, not ensuring that veiled faces match passport photos.
"We don't have concerns with that. We have concerns with the fact if the person has any metal under their clothing," MacDougall said.
A former CATSA employee, who, until recently worked as a frontline screener, tells QMI: “We were never allowed to ask anyone with a veil to lift it. It is their religion.”
Frontline workers for several airlines say that any checks, if they happen at all, would likely happen at the check-in desk, not at boarding or security.
Most airports have wide gaps between where baggage is checked and the secure portions of the airport. Transport Canada says there should be no confusion: “The airline must be able to verify the identity of all passengers before they are allowed to board,” the department said in a written statement.
Lawyer David Harris of INSIGNIS Strategic Research says Canadians should be concerned about what he deems preferential treatment.
“Full veiling has been a boon for those participating in criminal and terrorist operations,” Harris said pointing to the story of Mustaf Jama.
Jama, a Somali national with a long criminal record, was wanted in Britain for the 2006 murder of police constable Sharon Beshenivsky. As police closed in to arrest the career criminal, Jama was able to escape back to Somalia by wearing a full veil and boarding a flight at Heathrow airport.
Harris’ call for lifting the veil is backed up by two Muslim groups often at odds with each other, the Muslim Canadian Congress and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Canada. “You cannot allow a person wearing a mask to be in the perimeter of an airport,” says Tarek Fatah of the Congress. “If you don’t want to take off the mask, take the TTC (public transit) to Cairo.”
“Women who wear the niqab are not constrained by the religious belief from removing their veil for legitimate reasons, and security is one of them,” said Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of CAIR-CAN.
Gardee admits that Canadian officials may be reluctant to deal with this issue head-on due to concerns about political correctness. “It’s something that needs to be addressed,” Gardee said.
Gardee says it would be preferable if female staff were able to conduct any screening that involved removing the veil but adds that if female staff are not available, the women must still be forced to remove their niqab.