Globe and Mail Update
Ottawa Armed undercover sky marshals will soon be patrolling Canadian flights heading across the country and overseas as part of $2.2-billion worth of new air security measures unveiled in Monday's federal budget.
And air travelers, rather than Canadian taxpayers, will pay every penny of these new security measures through a new ticket tax of at least $12 for a one-way flight.
Under pressure to safeguard air travel after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Ottawa is also assuming control of airport and airline security throughout Canada.
"The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon have awakened new concerns and require a new response. It is a response that only the national government can provide," Finance Minister Paul Martin told the House of Commons Monday.
To this end, Ottawa is setting up a new federal air security authority and is budgeting $2.2-billion over five years to provide beefed-up screening of passengers and baggage as well as airport police and new bomb detection equipment.
Air travelers will start paying a surcharge April 1 to cover the new security measures, that amount to $440-million a year over the five-year period. For travel within Canada, the cost will be $12 for a one-way flight and $24 return.
Flights to the United States will be $12 for the Canada-U.S. portion and travelers will pay a $2.50 (U.S.) surcharge to American authorities for the return leg of the journey. Overseas flights will be $24 (Canadian) a passenger.
"You can call it a user fee if you like. Nonetheless, it amounts to a tax," Marc Lévesque, senior economist with Toronto-Dominion Bank, told globeandmail.com.
"That is a bit regrettable because one would have expected that they could have shuffled around spending priorities to find the money to do that."
The ticket tax could drop after five or six years once the capital costs of new security equipment are paid down, senior officials at Monday's budget briefings said.
Citing security risks, Ottawa is divulging few details about the plainclothes police that will be placed on Canadian aircraft, but officials acknowledged the program is likely to see officers placed at random on high-risk routes.
It would be "prohibitively expensive" to place air marshals on each of the thousands of flights that take off from Canadian airports each day, Ottawa officials said Monday.
It's expected Royal Canadian Mounted Police will provide the air marshal team. RCMP officers are currently only guarding Air Canada flights to Washington's Ronald Reagan airport — a measure Ottawa took at the request of American authorities.
Ottawa pledged "rigorous new national standards for security in airports and on board flights" and is promising to beef up training for workers who screen passengers and carry-on luggage. It also pledges to hire more staff for the job.
Further details are expected in a Transport Canada briefing Tuesday.
Ottawa, which unveiled state-of-the-art bomb detection equipment in October for Montreal's Dorval airport and Toronto's Pearson International, plans to buy more of the same machinery for other major airports across Canada.
Federal officials did not break out the costs of the new bomb detection equipment but industry sources have said it could be as much as $400-million.
The government said it will beef up policing at key locations in Canadian airports and pay for new, reinforced cockpit doors that make it harder for terrorists to attack pilots. The cost of reinforcing cockpit doors has been previously estimated to be as much as $25,000 a plane.