Crooks getting security clearances for airport work

Suspicious characters, some with links to organized crime, are working in secure areas at airports because of poor co-operation between Transport Canada and the RCMP, says the auditor general.

OTTAWA — Suspicious characters, some with links to organized crime, are working in secure areas at airports because of poor co-operation between Transport Canada and the RCMP, says the auditor general.

In her latest report, Sheila Fraser cites one case of an individual who held a security pass despite weapons and assault convictions — and who was under investigation for a drug-related murder at a large airport.

Fraser said part of the problem may be fallout from the Maher Arar inquiry, which chastised the Mounties for sharing information, some of it questionable, with American authorities.

“The memorandum of understanding between the RCMP and Transport Canada regarding information sharing was terminated by the RCMP on Dec. 31, 2007, as it no longer complied with ministerial directions or with the recommendation of the (Arar commission),” she said.

The Mounties are also leery of sharing information with Transport because some third parties — other police forces, for example — don’t allow their information to be passed on and because the RCMP worries that Transport may disclose police intelligence details to people denied clearance.

In turn, Transport Canada is wary of sharing some personal information about applicants with the RCMP because of concerns about privacy.

“In granting security clearances to individuals working at airports, Transport Canada does not check all criminal intelligence databanks,” Fraser told a news conference.

“It could still be granting clearances to high-risk individuals for access to restricted areas.”

She said Transport looks to the Aviation Act, which stresses threats to planes and passengers, not criminal activity. To the department, catching crooks is just a side benefit to stopping sabotage.

“There is a gap in the system,” she said. “I think Canadians expect more than that.”

The two agencies said they are working on a new information-sharing agreement and are reviewing how to address privacy concerns while still vetting applicants thoroughly.

Fraser’s report, one of her periodic submissions to Parliament, reviewed progress in a number of areas touched on in previous years. It found some agencies have made progress on problems, while others still fall short.

Among the findings:

— The Canada Revenue Agency still isn’t doing enough to curb tax dodging among small and medium-sized businesses operating in the underground economy.

— The system by which the government appoints people to boards, agencies and tribunals remains slow and cumbersome. In some cases — the refugee board, for example — delays in appointing members caused serious backlogs.

— Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency are still not doing enough to inspect water quality at airports, seaports and rail stations.

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