Ottawa plans to task airport security with checking vaccines for travelers


OTTAWA – Airport security guards may soon be screening more than your baggage.

The federal government is considering handing the responsibility of checking passengers’ immunization status to airport officials, rather than airlines – who hope to avoid the headache.

Canadian carriers this week received three consultation documents from Transport Canada asking for comments on the establishment of an agency in charge of the vaccine proof validation process, according to three sources who requested anonymity because they did not were not allowed to discuss the matter publicly.

The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA), the crown corporation that oversees the screening of passengers and baggage at airports, would take on this additional role in just two weeks if the plan comes to fruition in the wake of the industry comments.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last week that as of October 30, all air, train and boat travelers aged 12 or older must be fully immunized and have documents to prove it.

But a veil of uncertainty remains over how this requirement will play out, with carriers demanding answers across the patchwork of provincial systems and who will take care of the verification once a national proof of vaccination platform and code. QR will come into effect, the timing of which is also unknown.

Airlines have been pushing for CATSA to take the reins of vaccine checks at airports, which would amount to a change from the current health protocol where carriers are responsible for verifying the results of COVID-19 tests of passengers.

“Ultimately, verifying the legitimacy of people’s immunization records should be up to the government,” said Andy Gibbons, head of government relations and regulatory affairs at WestJet Airlines, in a virtual interview.

“I can see the Calgary airport from here. You have four entry points for CATSA and you have about 90 gates regardless of the number of airlines,” added the spokesperson for CATSA. WestJet, Richard Bartrem.

“It’s a much more efficient process and it’s up to government agencies rather than us as the airline to verify it.”

The government continues to determine how to consolidate 13 different provincial and territorial documentation regimes into one passport-like certificate with a QR code that can be checked across the country.

The “technical administration” of a nationwide immunization document available in digital format remains a work in progress, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said Thursday.

“We are working closely with the provinces and territories to implement this requirement, but the requirement is clear and people need to plan their lives accordingly,” she told reporters in Washington, DC.

Transport Canada and the Immigration Department did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.

Flair Airlines chief executive Stephen Jones said his development team is working on how to upload proof of vaccination as part of the booking and check-in process, in case CATSA does not take responsibility for the ‘full responsibility – or only does so until the digital vaccine passport enters the photo. “But it’s not over yet,” he said of the download plans.

“This is a federal mandate and a federally managed process, so it would make sense to have it at this (safe) point. airport without having been vaccinated status verified, “Jones said in a telephone interview.

Complications from both the possible single-source digital proof of vaccination and the more dispersed process of validating vaccination documents from various jurisdictions that will begin on October 30 include factors such as records of vaccines received in the United States as well. as the differences between the vaccines approved by the province. .

Nova Scotia and Alberta, for example, recognize any vaccine authorized by the World Health Organization, such as Sinovac, while other provinces and Health Canada have a shorter list.

Differences also exist between countries.

“It would be very important for Canada to agree on the type of proof that can be used for vaccination or for tests with as many countries as possible,” said Transat vice-president Christophe Hennebelle, stressing the role of the government in vaccine controls.

“The more help we can get to plan and implement this, the better for us.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on October 15, 2021.

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