Niqab Security Outrages at Airports
by Daniel Pipes
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I visited Toronto in early March 2010 and as I left the country I passed through the usual security check at Pearson International Airport. What made it different is that the next passengers after me in line were a man, a small child, and a person in niqab. (I write "person" rather than "woman" as I hardly know who was under the niqab outfit.)
Curious how the niqabi's hidden identity would be handled, I looked back as the trio was dealing with the security agent. To my astonishment, the agent did not demand to see the niqabi's face but was content to see those of the man and child. I wanted dearly to video this procedure on my mobile phone but dared not, thinking that this could well get me hauled in on some charge that I, ironically, was breaching security.
This experience comes to mind as I follow a current story about a similar situation at Montreal's Trudeau International Airport. The Toronto Sun explained on August 1 how Mick Flynn of Bradford, England, was boarding a flight there on July 11
Unlike me, Flynn did something about this outrage: "I complained at the desk — and again as I boarded the plane — asking if the pilot was happy that two women boarded without being identified. Both members of staff whom I spoke to were flustered and clearly embarrassed."
In a public statement, Air Canada insisted that "Airline passengers have already undergone multiple security checks before arriving at the boarding gate. A final check is made at the gate prior to boarding in order to confirm passengers on the flight." This, of course, is mumbo-jumbo. Then, to make the story even richer, Air Canada has threatened a lawsuit against Flynn for his video.
A day later, the Sun followed up with a report from Pearson:
Transport Minister John Baird issued a statement promising to look into the matter. "If the reports are true, the situation is deeply disturbing and poses a serious threat to the security of the air travelling public. If our current security policies in this area are deemed to be lacking, our government will take the necessary steps to protect the safety and security of the travelling public." Today, Baird came out with a more assertive statement:
He also stated that anyone, veiled or otherwise, who puts up a fuss at airport security and refuses identity checks, ought to be arrested. "If people are intimidating and threatening airport workers doing security checks, we won't tolerate that in Canada. We're seeking 100% compliance not 99%."
(1) It's hard to say something original about this preposterous situation. Obviously, niqabis must not get a free pass onto planes. If anyone wants a few dozen reasons why, just go to my blog on "Niqabs and Burqas as Security Threats."
(3) It's fascinating to see the impact of a single low-quality video. Next time, I must not let the opportunity pass me by. (August 3, 2010)
Aug. 4, 2010 update: I have received a copy of the Airport Pre-board Passenger Screening Course: Participant Manual published by Transport Canada, and agency of the Canadian government and dated July 2002. Of particular interest is the section titled "Passengers With/Wearing Objects of Sensitive, Cultural or Religious Significance" on page 5-18:
(1) I presume new versions of the manual have come out over the past eight years, so this text should be seen as an indication of current practice, not an exact guide.
(2) The focus here on phylacteries and tephillin is doubly curious, given that neither of them contain any metal and neither would conceivably ever be worn while going through the security check at an airport.
(3) Yet more curious is the mention of Sikh, Native Spiritualist, and Jewish religious items – but nothing about Islamic turbans, kufis, hijabs, jilbabs, niqabs, and burqas.
(4) Strangest of all is the unique focus on searching the item in question and the absence of mention here or anywhere else in the manual of identifying the person covered by niqabs and burqas. It's as though the whole issue of covered individuals does not even exist.
Sep. 17, 2010 update: The security problem appears to be over.
Jones, a former member of the Household Cavalry, a retired fireman, and the creator of the popular children's character Fireman Sam, then had to spent the next hour detained by security, which demanded that he apologize for having made a "racist" comment. See the Telegraph for the full, appalling details. The incident only ended when a BA manager offered a compromise, that a Muslim guard "could" have considered what Jones had said offensive. Jones agreed to this formulation and made his plane.
Comment: Now I know why I did not say a word in Toronto when I saw the niqabi go through the line.
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