Privacy czar probing proposed rules on strip searching airport, port workers
By Elizabeth Thompson, iPolitics.ca November 23, 2010 12:19 PM
OTTAWA — Canada's privacy commissioner is studying the government's plan to give Canada Border Services Officers more power to strip search airport and port employees suspected of smuggling drugs, arguing it could impact workers' privacy.
Stoddart is examining the initiative and has asked the CBSA for more information.
"We can say that there are clearly privacy implications for workers and we would expect these new powers to be used very judiciously," said Lawton.
Meanwhile, Liberal MP Mark Holland is calling for the proposed changes to be put on hold until a parliamentary committee has a chance to study them.
"Obviously we want to stop the flow of illegal drugs but it seems a little ridiculous, on the one hand, when you have large swaths of the border that are completely unmanned with signs that tell you what time the border closes at, and then we're strip searching people at other locations," said Holland.
It was revealed Monday that the government has proposed regulations in the Canada Gazette that would give CBSA officers more powers to strip search employees in new "customs-controlled areas." The move is a bid to crack down on the smuggling of illegal drugs, including marijuana, ecstasy and cocaine.
CBSA officers would also be allowed to frisk employees and to use various types of scanners or detectors to examine goods in their possession.
The proposed new regulations would apply to everyone whose work requires them to be in proposed new customs-controlled areas, regardless of whether they are baggage handlers or ambulance attendants responding to an emergency.
All that would be needed to frisk employees or trigger a strip search would be for a CBSA officer to have "reasonable grounds to suspect that a person has on his or her person anything which would provide evidence of illegal activity," the Canada Gazette states.
Currently, border officers can search employees as they leave a customs area. Under the proposed changes, they will have the power to search employees within a customs-controlled area and those areas will cover more of an airport or port than the current customs areas.
The regulations are part of the government's efforts to stem the multimillion-dollar tide of illegal drugs being smuggled into Canada by organized crime. The government says smuggling is flourishing with the help of airport and dock workers who are either planted in jobs or recruited after they start.
New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton said he is concerned about the increasingly invasive security procedures in airports, suggesting the government is overreacting.
"I just think we should be concerned about excessive security when it really begins to violate what's reasonable. . . . Of course we don't want illegal drugs or organized crime to get a foothold and to be given some kind of an easy time. To the contrary. But we've always got to be careful to protect people's basic rights not to be harassed."
Holland said Canadians are concerned that security at airports and border crossings is getting increasingly intrusive.
"If you're going to start strip searching employees, it's a pretty intrusive process and you have to demonstrate that it's going to yield results."
However, Chris McCluskey, spokesman for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, said both the NDP and the Liberals supported legislation creating the new customs-controlled areas in 2009 and said it would enhance border security and trade.
The bill was also supported by groups such as airport councils, business groups and trade unions, McCluskey said.
"The new rules will provide the additional information, tools and flexibility required to help identify threats and prevent criminal activity — all while ensuring legitimate flow of goods and travellers across our borders."