01/11/2012 02:07 EST | Updated 03/12/2012 05:12 EDT

New counter-terrorism technology to be tested on Edmonton transit riders

EDMONTON - A new technology to be tried out in Edmonton aims to catch terrorists by testing transit tickets for explosives residue.

That is, if the terrorists are honest enough to buy and validate their tickets. Those skipping fares aren't likely to get caught.

"I don't think there is any such thing as an honest terrorist," Ron Gabruck, head of security for the Edmonton Transit Service, said Wednesday.

"Let's just say people intent on committing an act will follow all rules and regulations so they're not detected."

The three-week pilot project is to begin in April. Edmonton will be the first to test the technology in North America.

The federal government is putting $1.78 million towards the project, which totals $2.54 million.

Cubic Security Systems of San Diego, Calif, has been involved in creating the technology, which has been in the works for nearly two years. A company spokeswoman said several American groups have shown interest and will be watching how it works in Edmonton.

Ticket validation machines in the city's downtown Churchill station are to be fitted with equipment to detect explosives as riders of the light-rail trains feed in their tickets. The city's train stations rely on an honour system and are not staffed with ticket-takers.

Sensors near exits and entrances will also be set up to spy for radiation on everyone walking through the station.

Within seconds of detecting a problem, an alert will be sent to computers and the smart phones of security officers, who can follow suspect passengers on security cameras and prevent trains from stopping at the station.

Gabruck said there are filters in place to discriminate between passengers who have had cancer treatments from those carrying illegal radioactive material.

Mobile Detect Inc. of Toronto is a contractor for the project. Company president Chris Clarke said the system is unlikely to pick up any hits in Edmonton. The point is to test the technology outside the lab in a real environment.

The city isn't a terrorist hub, Clarke added. Edmonton was chosen because it's transit system leads the country in public safety projects.

"We all hope that Canada will never have to face a terrorist threat," said Danya Vidosa, a spokeswoman with Defence Research and Development Canada.

"But in the unlikely event that it does, projects like this contribute to developing the tools and knowledge that we need to be better prepared to respond quickly and effectively."

She said there is a need to address gaps in detection technology and Canada needs to better learn how it can respond to events involving explosives.