05/15/2012 09:22 EDT | Updated 05/15/2012 11:50 EDT

Full-Body Scanners: Conservatives Risking Canadians' Safety By Failing To Independently Test Airport Machines, NDP Says

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The Conservatives have placed the health and safety of Canadians in jeopardy by failing to independently test ‘naked’ body scanners deployed at Canada’s airports, says the NDP.

As The Huffington Post Canada first reported last week, the federal government never independently tested the 56 Pro Vision full-body scanners it purchased from L3 Communications in 2010.

The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) and Health Canada say the machines are safe, but some travellers are starting to complain about headaches and dizziness and one American man recently reported a radiation burn after going through the millimetre-wave scanner.


A week after HuffPost started asking questions, Industry Minister Christian Paradis’ office confirmed the scanners were not fully tested.

“The test report produced by CKC stated that the equipment assessed was representative of a production unit,” Paradis’ spokeswoman Margaux Stastny said late last week. The government considered "that the entire machine was tested," she said.

HuffPost has since confirmed that those tests, performed by California-based CKC Laboratories, were also paid for by the scanners’ manufacturer.

CKC’s director of engineering services Steve Behm refused to speak with HuffPost Monday, citing a non-disclosure agreement with L3 Communications.

“You need to speak with L3, I can’t tell you anything about that report,” he said.

L3 told HuffPost the regulator, in this case Industry Canada, had tested the machine.

The NDP’s transport critic Olivia Chow calls the whole thing “outrageous.”

“Basically there is no test. We have to take the word of the manufacturing company in blind faith. Well, I actually don’t believe it because remember those Taser guns, they claimed that they were 100 per cent [safe] and wouldn’t cause any problems and then there was a series of studies and then they discovered that not all of them would do what they said they were supposed to do,” Chow said.

“I think it is sloppy implementation and it is also irresponsible. What do we need government for but to protect consumers, to protect travellers [and] to make sure that our health is not compromised,” she added.

Chow, who said she has never gone through the scanner herself, feels somewhat vindicated.

“I knew that my paranoia was founded,” she said.

John Sedat, an emeritus professor in the department of biochemistry and biophysics from the University of California San Franscico, told HuffPost that what the scanner underwent was not independent testing.

“The fact that it was tied in with the company that built it is a conflict of interest,” he said over the phone.

Initially, CATSA said Health Canada had studied the devices and found them to be safe. But Health Canada only assessed the information it received from the scanners’ manufacturer, which found the radiation waves to be well within the acceptable standard.

Mathieu Larocque, CATSA’s spokesperson, said the 56 full-body scanners the Conservative government purchased in 2010 are risk-free.

As per the Health Canada study on our website, MMW FBS (millimetre-wave full-body scanners) do not pose a threat to human health. That includes pregnant women,” Larocque wrote in an email.


Monday, Lawrence McKay, the Atlantic Canada United Steelworkers area co-ordinator, said the union is starting to ask members if they’ve felt any side-effects from the machine.

What’s most concerning for McKay however, is news that Securitas, the contractor hired by CATSA to perform pre-boarding security checks in Quebec and Atlantic Canada plans to eliminate 130 full-time positions.

In Atlantic Canada, every airport will be affected, with 69 full-time positions gone and possibly as many as 140 people out of work, McKay said.

CATSA spent $250,000 a pop on full-body scanners but they’ve cut so many people that the machines are rarely used in Atlantic Canada, he added.

Without the machines and the needed men and women on the front lines there will be huge security gaps, McKay said. “There is not enough people to get the job done.”

“There’s going to be flight delays — there has to be — either that, or there is going to be security breaches and hopefully safety is not compromised,” he said.

Airport screening officers across the country earn between $15 and $21 an hour depending on their training.

If you've got a complaint or experience with a full-body scanner you would like to share, please send it to althia.raj@huffingtonpost.com


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