Deadly drugs destined for James Bay First Nations slipping through Timmins airport
Some remote communities taking security screening into their own hands
The manager of the Timmins airport has an idea of how illegal drugs are being transported to fly-in First Nation communities in northern Ontario.
Dave Dayment told CBC News there is no security screening between Timmins and smaller airports. That may allow for drugs to slip past authorities.
The problem has become so serious, that several of these remote communities have resorted to searching arrivals at their airports to ensure narcotics are not brought into the community.
Decision rests with Transport Canada, airport says
Dayment said that at the Victor M. Power Airport in Timmins there are two types of passengers: those who are screened for security reasons, and those who are not.
Power is one of 89 airports across the country that is listed by Transport Canada as a 'designated' airport.
Those passengers who are destined for other 'designated' airports must be screened, along with their baggage, by the Canadian Air Transportation Security Authority (CATSA). These screenings are conducted with X-ray machines and other security measures.
The smaller airports, like in Fort Albany and Attawapiskat, get a free pass.
"If you're flying to a non-designated airport — and all those sites north of Timmins are non-designated — then those passengers and their luggage [are] not required to be screened under those security regulations," Dayment said.
Dayment said he understands the recent concerns from remote First Nations on the James Bay coast, but if these communities want to see increased screening at airports like Victor M. Power, then the directive has to come from the federal government.
"That would have to be something that Transport Canada would change, because the regulations don't require it," Dayment said.
"I would think that if [the First Nation communities] want to make that change it's not a Timmins Airport decision, it's a Transport Canada decision."
Last November the Mushkegowuk Tribal Council, which oversees the eight Cree communities in northern Ontario, declared a state of emergency due to the rising drug problems.
Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus has flagged the problem to federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau.
Guns, not drugs, is what Security Authority looks for
Even if passengers heading to the remote communities on the James Bay coast were to be screened, CATSA's focus is on weapons and other threats to security, not narcotics, Dayment said.
"Some of the items they would like to have the screening look for, aren't items that potentially would be looked for during passenger screening, because [illegal drugs and alcohol] wouldn't be a threat to aviation," he said.
There is protocol at the Timmins Airport to keep screened and non-screened passengers away from one another, particularly on the apron, where aircraft are parked, unloaded or loaded and refueled.
"For us it would be a lot easier if everything that was leaving the terminal door out to an airplane….if all those passengers have been screened. That would certainly help us locally...in our operation."
With files from Angela Gemmill