Ottawa ordered airline scanners months ago: Baird
Transport Minister John Baird says Canada must improve its airline security in the wake of a failed U.S. terror attack -- but he insists that Ottawa is not following the lead of Washington on security issues.
Baird announced Tuesday afternoon that body scanners that can see through the clothes of air travellers will be installed at airports across Canada over the next two months. Under the new system, travellers who are singled out for extra screening will be able to choose whether they prefer to undergo a pat-down search or to be scanned by trained security staff.
On Wednesday morning, Baird told CTV's Canada AM that Canada chose to pursue the high-tech scanner technology months ago, putting an order in to manufacturers "before the United States were in the queue...and before some of the countries in Europe."
"We're taking the leadership in this. We have to move quickly and expeditiously, we're confident that these are the best machines available on the market and they are the only ones recognized by the (U.S.) Transportation Security Administration, so that was an important part of our decision," Baird said during an interview from Ottawa.
The new scanners will be up-and-running only weeks after the failed attempt by an alleged terror suspect to blow up a U.S.-bound airliner on Christmas Day.
Umar Farouk Abdulmatallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian, is accused of sewing an explosive device into his underwear and attempting to ignite it on a Northwest Airlines flight that was travelling from Amsterdam to Detroit. He was subdued in the air by flight staff and passengers.
The attack has prompted major criticism from U.S. President Barack Obama who said his country's security system failed in a "potentially disastrous way."
Since then, Washington has introduced tough new screening procedures that target airline passengers from 14 countries that are considered to be state sponsors of terrorism, or "countries of interest" to the U.S.
When Baird was asked if the body scanners would have been able to catch the explosive materials involved in the Dec. 25 incident, he told Canada AM that authorities from around the world were carefully reviewing what happened and will "learn from that."
But he said the scanner technology was in the works well before the events in recent weeks, leaving Canadian authorities well-informed about the practical concerns of implementing them at nationwide airports.
"This is something we've been working on for about 15 months," said Baird.
"We did a trial for more than six months in Kelowna, B.C., and an overwhelming majority of people that use the system preferred it considerably better than a physical pat-down."
Baird said the scanners are "the only system" that the U.S. Transportation Security Administration recognizes in the United States. By choosing to employ it north of the border, it will make it easier for Canadians "to come and go across the border as easily as possible," Baird said.
Moving forward, Ottawa will need to make better use of its intelligence and contacts with its allies "to do everything that we reasonably can to ensure the public's safety and the security of Canadian families," Baird said.
He said Ottawa will remain in close contact with Washington, other allies and worldwide aviation officials to tighten security, both now and in the long-run.
"We've always got to be raising our game, because the terrorists are always going to be changing theirs," said Baird.
With files from The Canadian Press