On the way down, I happened to read an article in the Ottawa Citizen about the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (the federal agency running that on-going bad joke known as "airport security"). CATSA is crying poor:
CATSA's increasingly distressed and urgent pleas for more money are renewing questions about whether the Air Travellers' Security Charge, the passenger fee meant to support 100 per cent of the agency's costs, needs to be increased or even eliminated in favour of a new and more consistent funding scheme.
In other words, should airport screening security now paid for by passengers be considered public safety and paid for by all taxpayers?Just say no.
Heading up north yesterday, I discovered yet another wrinkle in this agency's inventive and ever-expanding programme of torture for that miserable class of folk known as "airline passengers." I was way ahead of the game, I thought: I had my laptop conveniently separated from other things being sent through the X-ray machine, just as they like. I removed my hat, my boots, and even my belt (otherwise they ask you if you are wearing one, and make you unbuckle; on one memorable occasion in Dorval, a female CATSA officer shoved her hand down the front of my jeans). I pulled out every coin in my pocket, followed by my keys and my watch and my specs.
I sailed through the little doorway. Not a peep, not a beep.
And then I was called to one side by an officer wearing latex gloves. I kid you not.
Luckily for me CATSA has not yet adopted the practice of short-arm salutes in a public place. The man just wanted to feel me up (he called it "patting me down," but you get the idea). And he proceeded to do so. Why, I asked, did I just go through all that nonsense a few seconds earlier if you people are now doing this sort of thing? "Just security," he said.
I've seen bureaucracies feed on themselves in this way before, developing more and more complex and refined procedures to catch tinier and tinier errors. I was a grants program officer once upon a time; "reviewing officers" checked our work to ensure quality. As we got more and more experienced, we made (of course) fewer and fewer mistakes. So the reviewing officers began to get pickier and pickier. Where once in a very blue moon we wrote to applicants to ask for more information, this slowly became SOP. Our choices of assessors were now routinely challenged. Our draft letters were sent back again and again for style changes. Quality might have been improved by a hair, but I suspect that the final results of the competitions were not affected. A variant of the Durkheim Constant was, however, maintained.
CATSA is no different. I would hazard a guess that they have not nabbed a would-be hijacker for aeons, but they've made life miserable for countless thousands of passengers, confiscating everything from salad dressing to nailclippers (the latter are apparently now permitted, no one having attempted to use one as a weapon recently), and getting, as noted, up close and personal.
Now they want more money. One shudders to imagine what it might be for.
My suggestion? Stop this thing in its tracks. Make CATSA use its existing budget sensibly. Don't give them another cent, either from passengers forced at the moment to pay for their own humiliation, or, gawdhelpus, the Taxpayer-General. Run your hat through an X-ray machine by all means, show your ID half a dozen times to various functionaries, package your eyedrops in little baggies, trot through a metal-detecting doorway, but let's have the government tell these people to back off at this point. Or the next time you see the man with the latex gloves, he may have more than a pat-down in mind. On your nickel, too.
UPDATE: (October 28) Welcome, CATSA, and I hope you got the message.
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