Saskatchewan

Woman wants apology after being detained at Regina airport, laptop destroyed

Tracey Britton says she wants answers after she was detained at the Regina International Airport for more than six hours yesterday, and her computer was taken away from her and destroyed.

Detained 6 hours after computer flagged as suspicious package

Tracey Britton says her laptop computer was destroyed and she was detained for hours at the Regina International Airport on Monday. (Trent Peppler/CBC)

Tracey Britton says she wants answers after she was detained at the Regina International Airport for more than six hours yesterday, and her computer was taken away from her and destroyed.

What is going on here? This is unreal. This is like something out of a movie.- Tracey Britton

The Saskatchewan woman was getting ready Monday to take a flight to Peru to visit her father when her Acer laptop was flagged as suspicious after it went through an X-ray machine at airport security.

Operations at the Regina International Airport have returned to normal after a police bomb squad removed a suspicious object from the grounds on Monday. (Tyler Pidlubny/CBC News)

The Regina police bomb squad was brought in and the airport was locked down. Eventually, the laptop was seized, taken away from the airport and, according to Britton, destroyed.

Regina police did not give the name of the person involved in the incident, saying only that it was a 49-year-old woman and she does not face any criminal charges.

In an interview with CBC News, Britton said she was separated from everyone else in the airport and questioned.

"They finally escorted me downstairs and that's where I kind of lost it," she told CBC Radio's Morning Edition. "I was crying. I was upset. I'm like, 'What is going on here? This is unreal. This is like something out of a movie.'"

Passengers were relegated to the arrivals area while airport security and Regina police investigated the suspicious object. (Tyler Pidlubny/CBC)

Eventually, Britton said, she was taken to an area near an airport restaurant.

"So, basically, I'm walking by the windows where everybody else who has already cleared screening is sitting on the other side watching me walk by this window with the [police]," she said.

"I'm bawling my eyes out. The [police] is trying to hide me behind a pillar with some plants so that I can't be seen."

Unsure why laptop seized

While Britton hasn't been told why the laptop was seized, she overheard security workers talking about "organic material" in the computer.

She also heard them refer to a "cylindrical" piece in the back of the computer with wires in it that looked like it could be a detonator. 

Organic material in my computer? Maybe I spilled coffee on my computer or food crumbs? It's a household computer.- Tracey Britton

"I've had it for several years," she said. "It's never left my side. It's never left my house. I don't think I've had the unit serviced."

As far as she knows, she has been officially cleared by police.

Even though another flight was booked, Britton lost two days of travel. She wants an apology and her laptop replaced.

"I don't even understand it," she said. "Organic material in my computer? Maybe I spilled coffee on my computer or food crumbs? It's a household computer."

Airport, police stand by response

In a subsequent interview with CBC, Regina Airport Authority CEO Richmond Graham expressed empathy for Britton, but stopped short of apologizing.

"I could just imagine the surprise on this woman's face as things rolled out, and certainly feel for her," Graham said.

Richmond Graham, president of the Regina Airport Authority, said whatever was in Tracey Britton's laptop was 'very inconsistent' with what the security screeners normally find. (Nahila Bendali Amor/CBC)

Whatever was in the laptop was "very inconsistent" with what the screeners normally find, he said.

Graham said the airport authority provides a safe location for police to interview people when incidents like this happen, but it does not have any involvement in the investigation.

Regina police originally didn't say what "object" was involved, but clarified Tuesday morning that the suspicious item was indeed a laptop.

"In order to confirm that there was no explosive device contained or attached, the laptop was opened up by our explosive disposal members," police spokeswoman Elizabeth Popowich said in an email. "It is no longer functional."

However, the police service did save the hard drive, and the information contained is believed to be intact, she said.

The owner can pick up the hard drive from the police station, Popowich added, and can pursue a claim with respect to the laptop.

CBC Radio's Morning Edition