Canadian Airport Security May Be Going to the Dogs

Canadian air travellers may soon encounter a new breed of security screener with a keen sense of smell, pointy snout and long tail.

The federal agency responsible for scrutinizing passengers and baggage plans to team up with the RCMP to test the use of bomb-sniffing German shepherds.

The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority is negotiating terms of a possible pilot project with the Mounties and the airport authority of a major Canadian city, said CATSA spokesperson Anna-Karina Tabunar.

She declined to name the city because the air security authority is still "trying to iron out some details" with the other two prospective partners.

CATSA officials laying groundwork for the project hope it will take place some time this year.

The RCMP would be a crucial partner in the exercise, given the force's longstanding work with canines, she added.

"They've been training for many, many years, so they've got experience with certain breeds. We're just tapping into their expertise."

More than 4,000 screening officers work for service providers under contract to CATSA at Canadian airports.

Several screeners who met with agency president Jacques Duchesneau in a series of forums across Canada late last summer expressed a desire for training in new methods.

Duchesneau told employees in Montreal that CATSA was researching several new programs including the use of dogs at screening points.

The Canada Border Services Agency already employs dogs, skilled at detecting drugs and firearms, at international airports in cities including Halifax, Quebec City, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, and Vancouver.

However, these four-legged workers are focused on travellers entering the country, not those boarding flights.

In 2004, CATSA screened more than 37 million air passengers and 60 million bags.In recent years the agency has invested $1 billion in new explosive-detection equipment for airports.

Tabunar said CATSA is interested in dogs as another layer of security at air facilities. "No matter what the technology is, there's always a way to fool the machines."

Employing screener dogs at airports may have some value, said Liberal Senator Colin Kenny, long-serving chairman of the upper chamber's committee on national defence and security.

"The psychological impact, I think, is significant," said Kenny.

He said the cost-effectiveness of using canines, however, is difficult to measure because they require human handlers, not to mention frequent breaks.

"The working time of a dog is relatively short. A dog can't do an eight-hour shift, if you know what I mean."

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