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A B.C. Man's Trip Was Delayed 9 Hours When Airport Staff Refused To Give Him A Pat-Down

Canada's airport security agency says staff misunderstood the regulations.

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A retired social worker from Terrace, B.C., missed his flight when he was made to wait several hours for a pat-down.

Robert Hart

Robert Hart was flying out of his hometown airport in late July to get to a family wedding in Ontario when his artificial hip set off the metal detector. This happens often, but instead of getting a pat-down he was told he had no choice but to miss his flight.

The all-female screening staff told him they could not do a physical search because, according to regulations, only a person of the same gender could do one.

I glanced at the four female security staff on hand. Sure enough, not a male in sight, at least not one wearing the required uniform.

[...]

You have my permission to do a pat-down. It's male-male, female-female procedure. No. My wife can watch. No. Can you ask an Air Canada personnel to do it? No, we can't do their job, they can't do ours. RCMP? None stationed at the airport.

You can put your wand against my hip, I said. It will beep because there is metal in my hip and you will see that there is nothing else there because I have already taken off my belt. No.

I switched to plea-mode. I have a connecting flight to make. I'm going back east for a family wedding. I'm going to see my children. Sorry.

Hart was told his only option was to catch a later flight, when a male officer would be around to do the screening.

Transport Canada / Via flic.kr

Hart's departure was pushed back about four hours, and because he missed a connecting flight he was delayed even further. In total, his trip was delayed over nine hours.

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CATSA, the Canadian Air Transport Security Agency, has since apologized for the way Hart was treated.

CATSA / Via screenshot

The incident at the Northwest Regional Airport was a "misunderstanding of the policy," CATSA spokesperson Mathieu Larocque told BuzzFeed Canada.

The rule mandating same-sex pat-downs was introduced in 2010 "in response to a high number of complaints" about physical searches. And though there are few problems at most major airports with more staff, Larocque said smaller airports had to make sure the policy was "operationally feasible."

Anyone who consents to a pat-down by a member of the opposite gender should be accommodated. As of this writing, CATSA has yet to update the policy on its website to make that clear.

CATSA will also provide mandatory training to airport security staff and make sure agents across Canada are aware of exceptions to the pat-down policy.

Scott Olson / Getty Images

Hart told CBC's Daybreak North he appreciated the apology, but still worried about what it says about air travel security.

"CATSA's job is not to impede our travel. It's to ensure our safe travel," he said. "But we've developed a security system that presumes we're all guilty unless we can clear ourselves."

When reached by phone on Wednesday, Hart told BuzzFeed Canada he made the wedding in time, but wanted to make sure other travellers didn't go through the same experience.

"Canadians with artificial hips, artificial knees, any kind of metal in their bodies, shouldn't have this issue," he said.

Ishmael N. Daro is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto. PGP fingerprint: 5A1D 9099 3497 DA4B

Contact Ishmael N. Daro at ishmael.daro@buzzfeed.com.

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