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No ‘junk touching’ in Canada, Transport Minister says Add to ...

The burgeoning “don’t touch my junk” movement in the United States has prompted the Harper government to quietly request the installation of special privacy dividers at security lanes in Canada’s major airports.

The physical search stalls are beginning to appear now, in time for the peak holiday travel season. The U.S. backlash against intrusive searches prompted the Conservative government to act.

Transport Minister Chuck Strahl announced the new privacy measure in Question Period on Wednesday.

He insisted, however, the government will not institute aggressive U.S.-style pat-downs. He also said the full body-scan machines Canada is using “do not pose the same health risk [as those in the United States] because they use a millimetre wave technology rather than X-ray technology.”

“So passenger security is extremely important, and our government is committed to balancing that by ensuring that passengers are treated respectfully and properly,” he said.

Important – and seemingly, comical.

“People touch my private parts all day long,” Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff told reporters when asked about the U.S. situation and Mr. Strahl’s announcement.

Mr. Ignatieff noted that his job requires that he practically live in airports, and he accepts the security measures.

“That’s what we have to do to keep us safe. ... I have long ceased worrying about these issues,” he said. “We have to keep this country safe and the people I feel strongly in support of are the hard-working security scanners. It’s not a great job. It’s tough. You’re wearing rubber gloves all day long.”

NDP leader Jack Layton says there must be a balance between security and respect for people.

“The idea that there would be invasive pat-downs for passengers going through airports is something that we have to reject, and certainly we’ll be watching very closely to make sure that our government doesn’t follow some of the extreme practices that we’ve seen emerging in other countries,” he said.

The Globe and Mail, meanwhile, obtained an internal memo on Wednesday from the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority calling for the “urgent deployment” of “temporary physical search stalls ... ideally installed in the full search lane at the checkpoints near the full body scanner.”

“We have been asked by the DM of Transport today to proceed with this deployment as a proactive gesture on the part of the government, of Transport and CATSA to increase customer confidence and satisfaction,” says the memo, which was sent to CATSA officials on Tuesday.

“As you all know, there is a movement afoot in the United States planned for tomorrow where passengers will apparently opt out of [searches] and this could disrupt operations in the United States and possibly Canada.”

U.S. Thanksgiving is one of the heaviest travel periods of the year.

The security booths in Canadian airports – which are about the size of a department store change room – will be in plain view of passengers. They are to be installed at airports in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, Ottawa, Halifax and Winnipeg.

Right now in Canada, full-body scans are used only in secondary screening. If a passenger does not want to be searched in public, he or she can request a special room for a body search – but they are difficult to get to or non-existent in most airports.

The CATSA memo notes that search practices in Canada are different from those of the United States. The pat-down is not as rigorous.

“We still feel that we will improve the level of customer service and prevent incidents by moving the private search area to the checkpoint,” the memo says.

CATSA refers to this as a “temporary solution.”

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