By Allison Cross
Canwest News Service
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A security crackdown on airline travel to the United States is a superficial fix to grave problems with Canada's airport-safety system, says an expert who contends this country remains vulnerable to aviation terrorism.
"It's cosmetic," Peter St. John told Canwest News Service on Saturday.
"'Reaction security' is not good security. 'Pre-emptive security' is what you need. You need to be anticipating who's going to be doing what. That's what good intelligence is about."
Transport Canada, along with governments around the world, on Saturday implemented temporary security measures for flights to the U.S., including bag and body searches at gates, after a Nigerian man tried unsuccessfully to detonate an explosive device on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.
"It should be a wake-up call," St. John said of what officials in the U.S. are calling a botched Christmas Day terror attack.
St. John, a retired university professor who has written extensively on airport security, aviation hijacking and international terrorism, said Canada's airport-security system is porous and vulnerable to terrorism.
Transport Canada should focus on hiring highly trained security professionals in airports instead of more expensive technology, St. John said.
"We've flirted with the idea of machines that can spot everything ... but we've never developed proper human security," he said. "In all intelligence matters ... and counter-security ... it's always the personnel that find the problems -- good, well-trained personnel who know what they're doing and know what they're looking for. If you're not prepared to pay for these people and not prepared to put proper security in place, bombs are going to be let off."
St. John has also long advocated for stricter security measures such as an outright ban on carry-on baggage, as well as a policy that prohibits passengers' luggage from being on a flight if the owner isn't -- for any reason.
"I don't understand why a country like Canada that's so good militarily and has got so many techniques it has developed in war and conflict, cannot develop a proper security system," he said. "It's just simply a question of (terrorists) trying, before one of these things really works because of the poor defences. It was poor defences and bad airport security that led to 9/11."
Canada's aviation security system lags far behind many other developed nations, St. John said.
St. John said the Air India tragedy in 1985, when a flight en route to Bombay from Montreal blew up mid-air and killed 329 people, also should have served as a wake-up call to Canadians. He said it didn't.