When government ministers decide to sound ministerial, the result can be a strange mixture of decisive sounds and ambiguous noises. You could hear it during John Baird's shambolic finale as transport minister, when he struggled with security checks of face-veiled air passengers.
"One hundred per cent of people must be verified at the gate," Baird declared. "There is one law for all."
It seems like straightforward government policy. But is it?
Sadly, there is a troubling ambiguity hidden in the government's approach. To understand why it matters, remember the background -- including the hidden background -- of this episode.
Despite a burgeoning bureaucracy and millions spent monitoring aviation screening, it took a smudgy YouTube video to awaken the government to the fact that face-veiled passengers appeared to be bounding onto planes without necessary security checks. The tentative verdict: Some airport security staff, confronted by unco-operative masked travellers or their male handlers, simply give up and allow boarding without face identification.
YouTube revelations led to more disclosures. Respected Middle East scholar, Daniel Pipes, witnessed beveiled folk -- whether male or female, he couldn't tell -- swanning unchallenged through Canadian boarding controls. A former U.S. Special Forces soldier reportedly saw arrogant face-veiled women "harangue" and threaten a screener with lawsuits for daring to ask to see their faces in a private room. The screener caved, let them pass, and was humiliated with laughter from the victorious women who -- in Arabic -- disparaged "simpleton Canadians."
"Simpleton Canadians?" Quite so. For this fiasco makes a farce and fraud of Canadian jurisdiction, no-fly lists, security regulations -- and ministerial declarations. Indeed, increasing numbers of Canadians, such as Muslim Canadian Congress founder Tarek Fatah, find the situation "disgraceful and alarming." Fatah is not far off when he says that no covered person has any business being within an airport's perimeter, let alone getting a free pass onto a plane.
So now Baird's successor, Chuck Strahl, must play catch-up with the belated promise to identify all passengers. But the real question is, how?
Fatah says that security-system failures can be ascribed to the cowardice of those involved in the system, from small fry at the gate, to big fish at the top of the government and airline bureaucratic-political food chain. Some of these people worry about the career and personal implications of enforcing the law and challenging radicals. They dread concocted "racist" or "anti-Muslim" smears, and are haunted by the spectre of overactive human rights commissions and courts.
Unfortunately, the same conflict-averse, self-serving surrenderers may well be the very people who will review past failures and approve future measures. This has troubling implications that go to the heart of Charter rights and Canadian values.
How? In submission to the Saudi-style sharia Islamic sensitivities that seem to have driven some screening supervision, expect officials to set up male-exclusion zones in airports for the purpose of identifying "niqabis." And expect only females to be authorized for this official work, with hiring practices to mirror the gender-apartheid sensibilities involved. Our tax and travel dollars would thus fund sharia and stealth jihad by the back door.
Before the curtain came down on Baird, he had suggested -- subject to review by the same department that presided over this dangerous collapse of air safety -- that separate, sharia-screening systems will not happen. But even if the new transport minister repeats these assurances, they will be unreliable. This is because aspects of screening are shared between government and private-sector airlines, airlines that may have their eyes on fundamentalist air-transport markets. Moreover, there is precedent for concerns that government itself is an unreliable ally in the fight against "sharia-subversion" and the Islamizing of important public functions.
One precedent is the debate three years ago about possible "veiled voting." Virtually all federal parties expressed convincing concerns about face-veiled women in polling stations. But eager not to alienate immigrant voters, government and other politicos ultimately downloaded the matter to Elections Canada. In doing so, they knew full well that agency bureaucrats regarded face-veiled voting as acceptable.
Worse, these politicians had good reason to believe that Elections Canada would "accommodate" masked females with government-provided, female-staffed male-banned poll station zones in the best sharia tradition. Indeed, the potential for inappropriate political responses was made clear in 2007 when Muslim colleagues and I testified before a parliamentary committee looking into masked voting. To our surprise, even ostensible progressive NDP committee MP, Paul Dewar, seemed to suggest Morocco -- of all places -- as a model for Canadian face-veiled voting procedures.
As Chuck Strahl's air-screening review begins, citizens must keep a sharp eye on any politicians, bureaucrats and airline officials whose propensity to compromise cherished values could continue to undermine air passenger safety, and gender and other constitutional guarantees.
In these and other respects, Canadians must remember that they are the country's first and last line of defence. This means putting to work all proper means to force our political bosses, corporations and their employees to do the right thing. Necessary measures may include recourse to criminal and civil law, calls for disciplinary employment sanctions, demands for review and suspension of airport and airline licences, and boycotts of airports and airlines. And, of course, cashiering political and bureaucratic operators who put self before safety and country.
The present course is unsustainable in a dangerous world and unworthy of Canada's values and traditions. The political class seems to have faltered, and Canadians must come to their own rescue.
A lawyer with 30 years in intelligence affairs, David Harris is director of the intelligence program INSIGNIS Strategic Research Inc. He has consulted with intelligence organizations in Canada and abroad and served with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service in 1988-90.