OTTAWA — Passengers singled out for a body pat-down at Canada’s airports will now be told at the outset they can be inspected in private.
Canada’s air-security authority also said Wednesday it’s installing privacy booths at airport screening checkpoints across the country.
Until now, passengers had to ask that a body search take place out of sight of other travellers, and it happened in a separate room.
The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority’s changes follow revelations about scores of formal complaints from Canadians subjected to physical searches last year.
A 56-year-old woman travelling with her husband through Calgary in June 2009 described the search she underwent at the hands of a female screener as “degrading, embarrassing and humiliating.”
“I have no doubt the woman knows my cup size and the size of my underwear.”
Many people selected by security screeners for a physical search said they were unaware they could be scrutinized in private.
The Canadian Press obtained copies of the complaints from 2009-10 — with passenger names removed — under the Access to Information Act.
The Canadian measures announced Wednesday also come amid an uproar over intrusive new passenger screening procedures in the United States that has rekindled discussion about the tug of war between security and privacy.
“CATSA had been planning to install private search areas for some time. The attention that airport security screening is currently receiving accelerated our deployment plans,” the air-security authority said in a statement.
“For CATSA, getting the balance right between security and customer service is our absolute priority.”
Transport Minister Chuck Strahl said Canadians “obviously have a right to expect to be treated properly and respectfully at airports.
“And CATSA has an obligation to do that and there’s an expectation from the management to make sure their screeners treat people that way.”
CATSA spokesman Mathieu Larocque said the focus on screening concerns in North America over the last few days prompted Transport Canada and the air-security authority to accelerate their plans.
The booths — essentially large privacy screens — are now in place at major airports across the country. They will be installed at smaller airports soon, he added.
“And we will have the screening officers offering the private search to every passenger that is selected for a physical search, as opposed to waiting for the request from the passenger,” Larocque said.
“We are being more proactive to make sure that they are aware and that they use that option if they like.”
Private rooms will still be available if a traveller prefers, he said.
CATSA officers routinely select passengers at random for additional screening, even if they do not set off the alarm on a walk-through metal detector.
This may include examination with a hand-held wand to confirm that objects such as belts and shoes don’t conceal a threat. An officer may also conduct a physical search.
Two screening officers are present during such body searches and a passenger may request that a witness attend. In the case of travellers 12 years of age or younger, a witness is mandatory.
Travellers selected for secondary screening may opt for examination in a full-body scanning machine, which creates a detailed outline of the traveller. There are 36 such machines at Canada’s larger airports.