Transport Minister Marc Garneau has sent a team of officials to Brussels to assess intelligence information before deciding whether Canada should require passengers travelling from some Middle Eastern countries to pack all large electronic devices other than cellphones in their checked baggage.
The United States and Britain have ruled that only cellphones and smartphones will be allowed in the passenger cabin of flights into the U.S. and Britain from a number of Muslim-majority countries.
U.S. Homeland Secretary John Kelly passed on intelligence to Mr. Garneau in a telephone discussion on March 20 after the U.S. banned laptops on passenger aircraft arriving from 10 airports in eight countries.
Canadian security agencies and Transport Canada assessed the intelligence and are now seeking further clarification.
“My officials are in Brussels to attend meetings with a core group of allies and experts on the issue of banned electronics in the cabin of aircraft. We are carefully assessing information of concern with partners,” Mr. Garneau said in a statement.
No details have been provided on why the U.S. and Great Britain became alarmed about laptops on passenger planes, but it was reported by The New York Times that intelligence showed Islamic State is developing a bomb hidden in portable electronics.
Mr. Garneau assured Canadians that their safety should not be a concern at this time.
“We have in place enhanced and targeted security measures for flights destined to Canada in airports and countries around the world. This is normal practice, and such measures are in effect on almost every continent, including South America, Asia and Africa,” he said. “Our government remains vigilant in continuously assessing our security measures and will not hesitate to take further action when needed.”
U.S. officials have told Reuters the information gleaned from a U.S. commando raid in January in Yemen that targeted al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) included bomb-making techniques.
AQAP, based in Yemen, has plotted to take down U.S. airliners and claimed responsibility for the 2015 attack on the office of Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris.
The group claimed responsibility for a Dec. 25, 2009, failed attempt by a Nigerian Islamist to down an airliner over Detroit. The device, hidden in the underwear of the man, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, failed to detonate.
The U.S. ban affects flights from international airports in Jordan, Kuwait, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Qatar and United Arab Emirates. About 50 flights a day will be impacted, all on foreign carriers.
Britain’s ban applies to domestic and foreign flights coming from Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.
Of the nine airlines affected by the U.S. ban, eight offer direct routes to Canada, through either Toronto’s Pearson International Airport or Montreal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport.
If Canada were to follow a similar ban, among the routes affected could be Turkish Airlines flights from Istanbul to Montreal, Royal Jordanian Airlines flights between Amman and Montreal and Qatar Airways flights between Doha and Montreal.
Angela Gittens, director-general of airport association ACI World, likened the move to the years-long restrictions of liquids on planes, which she said also came suddenly, in response to a perceived threat, and caused some disruption.
Airlines will adjust to the electronics policy, she said. “The first few days of something like this are quite problematic, but just as with the liquids ban, it will start to sort itself out.”
U.S. officials said the decision had nothing to do with President Donald Trump’s efforts to impose a travel ban on six majority-Muslim nations. Homeland Security spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said the government “did not target specific nations. We relied upon evaluated intelligence to determine which airports were affected.”
On March 6, President Trump signed a revised executive order barring citizens from Iran, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from travelling to the United States for 90 days. Two federal judges have halted parts of the ban, saying it discriminates against Muslims. Mr. Trump has vowed to appeal up to the Supreme Court if necessary.
The rules do apply to U.S. citizens travelling on those flights, but not to crew members on those foreign carriers. Homeland Security will allow passengers to use larger approved medical devices.
While Canada assesses the information that led to the U.S. and UK actions, the International Air Transport Association called for the ban to be a temporary measure.
"The current measures are not an acceptable long-term solution to whatever threat they are trying to mitigate," Alexandre de Juniac, director general and chief executive officer of the association said in a speech in Montreal. "Even in the short term it is difficult to understand their effectiveness. And the commercial distortions they create are severe. We call on governments to work with the industry to find a way to keep flying secure without separating passengers from their personal electronics."
Airlines are raising legitimate criticisms of the ban, Mr. de Juniac said.
The two countries have placed the ban on flights from different airports and laptops are regarded as secure in some airplane cabins but not others, he noted.
"We must find a better way. And governments must act quickly," he said.
With files from Greg Keenan and ReutersReport Typo/Error