New Iqaluit airport security will be enhanced, but not increased

When Iqaluit gets its new airport, security lines will be faster and more efficient, but passengers flying to smaller communities still won't be screened.

Northern airports confiscate more hunting supplies, loose bullets, bear spray

Every year, about 65 to 75,000 passengers are screened by airport security in Iqaluit's airport. (Elyse Skura/CBC)

When Iqaluit gets its new airport, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) says there will be room to have more efficient security screening areas — but a faster process doesn't mean a stricter process. 

"We will likely have a larger screening area with [one main screening line, one extra screening line in case of an increase in passenger volume], maybe two or three more screening officers," said Mathieu Larocque, the spokesman for CATSA. 

Depending on the number of passengers and the volume of flights, Larocque says the addition of an extra screening line will "definitely" speed things up. 

But when it comes to the level of security, Larocque says the standards at Iqaluit's airport are the same as they are in airports across the country. 

"We take no chances. We always err on the side of caution."

Small airports require no screening

For travellers heading to large airports like Ottawa and Montreal, the process of having carry-on baggage scanned and walking through a metal detector is familiar. 
Mathieu Larocque says when Iqaluit's new airport is opened, there will likely be room for more security equipment and officers. (Elyse Skura/CBC)

But when you head to one of Nunavut's many smaller, fly-in communities, things work differently. 

"Here, you show your photo I.D. and there you go," said Jeff Peyton, who regularly travels between Ottawa and his home in Pangnirtung.  "You just walk on through." 

Airports in more remote communities across the North are small, often consisting of a single room for passenger arrivals and departures, with no secure area.

Larocque says Transport Canada is responsible for deciding which airports are designated to have security. 

"Transport Canada did a risk assessment after [the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States] and selected airports that needed security screening services." 

Pocket knifes, liquids often forgotten

In the North, Larocque says only three airports are designated as requiring CATSA's security processes: Iqaluit, Yellowknife and Whitehorse. 

But non-designated airports are not a Northern phenomena. According to data released by Transport Canada last year, there are more than 200 airports in Canada that offer commercial flights, yet fewer than half require mandatory passenger and baggage screening. 

It only takes a few weeks to fill two boxes with confiscated items at the Iqaluit airport — including tools, box cutters and barbecue lighters. Liquids, like maple syrup and bottled water, are disposed of regularly. (Elyse Skura/CBC)

If you want to know the difference having a security screening process makes, you need only look at passengers who travel from small communities and go through security in Iqaluit for a connecting flight. 

"Sometimes we'll see them carrying items that are not permitted in the carry-on bag," said Larocque. 

"They might have forgotten a knife or a tool or a liquid above the 100 ml restriction."

While security measures in the North are no different from those in the South, Larocque says there are some items that are far more prevalent in the territories — including loose bullets, hunting knives and bear spray.

Northern Security by the Numbers

  • Approx. number of passengers screened in Iqaluit each year: 65-75,000
  • Approx. number of passengers screened in Whitehorse each year: 150,000
  • Approx. number of passengers screened in Yellowknife each year: 180,000
  • Number of screening officers in Iqaluit: 10 full time and 2 part time
  • Number of screening officers in Whitehorse: 20
  • Number of screening officers in Yellowknife: 20
  • Most commonly found restricted items: ammunition, hunting equipment, ulu knives, bear spray
  • Most unusual item found in checked baggage in Iqaluit: live, full-sized pig


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