Canadians Get More Leeway to Joke in Airport-Security Lines

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Last week, The Canadian Press (like our Associated Press, but Canadian) reported on a bulletin issued in May by the Canadian Air Transport Safety Authority that urged staff to use more discretion when reporting someone for making jokes about airport security.  It seems that some airport screeners have been too quick to order an arrest simply because a particular word was used, even if it probably did not signify a real threat.

The bulletin, an internal CATSA document recently obtained by the Press under Canada’s Access to Information Act, tells screeners to distinguish between "false declarations," which are illegal and should lead to arrest, and "careless or inflammatory statements," which should result only in a warning.  If careless or inflammatory statements are made, a screener should "inform the person that he or she could commit a serious offense saying such words at an airport," but then continue the regular screening process without sounding the alarm.

Responding to questions from reporters, a spokeswoman for CATSA said the clarification was issued because screening officers were not considering the context in which a particular word or phrase was used, and so were "a little bit too quick on the trigger."  Now, she said, officers should "evaluate[] the entire context and . . . not simply [be] triggered by the word ‘bomb.’"  She compared the warning that will now be given in response to a careless or inflammatory statement to something called a "yellow card" in "soccer," apparently a kind of sporting event in countries that aren’t America.

To date, I haven’t been able to find a copy of the actual bulletin, but the recent summaries describe it as providing lists of the kinds of statements that might fall into each category.  Based on these lists, it sounds like this bulletin has probably served as a very helpful guide to Canadian airport screeners.

For example, the statement, "I have a bomb in my bag" will result in arrest.  But the statement "There’s no bomb in my shoe," will not.  You see, "I have a bomb" is a "false declaration," at least if you don’t really have a bomb, and therefore is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 under the Canadian Aeronautics Act.  But the statement "I don’t have a bomb" is not a false declaration (again, this is if you don’t really have a bomb), and so the speaker will get only a warning.  So, if I understand correctly, someone who claims to have a bomb, but doesn’t, will get arrested; while someone who claims not to have a bomb, but does, will get a warning, and a boarding pass.  A system carefully crafted for your protection, ladies and gentlemen.

Here are a few more examples — all taken from the bulletin — so you can compare and contrast:

     Legal:   "My gun misfired when I was hunting this weekend."
     Illegal:  "The man in seat 32F has a machine gun."

     Illegal:  "There’s a bomb in the washroom!"
     Legal:  "Your hockey team is going to get bombed tonight!"

     Legal:  "What do you think I look like, a terrorist?"
     Illegal: "The person over there is a terrorist."

     Illegal: "I’m going to hijack this airplane over the Atlantic."
     Legal:  "Hi, Jack!"

Clear enough?  Hard to say.  Dumb enough?  Yes.  Airport screeners, listen up: if someone gets off a plane and says something to you like, "Say, I’m in seat 32E — no, it’s quite comfortable, thank you very much, but damned if the gentleman in the window seat isn’t cleaning an AK-47.  And first I thought to myself, here I had to throw away half my toiletries because they were not in 3-ounce containers, and my bloody seatmate didn’t even have to check his machine gun, but then I thought perhaps I should mention the potential risk," maybe your first reaction should be to see who’s in seat 32F before you arrest this possible joker, let alone give a yellow card to somebody who said "Hi" to his friend "Jack."

Other illegal comments to beware of:

  • "I’ve got plastic explosives that can blow up this airport."
  • "You better look through my suitcase carefully, because there’s a bomb in there."
  • "The bag I checked in upstairs contains an improvised explosive device."  (Terrorists are always making these kinds of hilarious jokes.)
  • "Screener: What’s in that bottle?  Passenger: Liquid explosives."
  • "Passenger: Knock, knock.  Screener: Who’s there?  Passenger: Allah.  Screener: Allah who?  Passenger: Allahu akbar!"

Okay, I made that last one up.  Finally, my favorite illegal statement example from the bulletin:

  • "I am going to set fire to the airplane with this blowtorch."

You know what?  If somebody actually says that at the security checkpoint with a blowtorch in his hand ("Screener: Which blowtorch?  Passenger: this blowtorch"), you won’t hear any complaints from me if you just go ahead and arrest him.  No lengthy investigation necessary.

Finally, it is at least good to know that the sentence:

  • "This security does nothing to stop hijacking."

Is still legal to say.  At least in Canada.

Link: Reuters via Yahoo! News
Link: Canadian Press via Orleans Star (Ottawa)