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Canadian North adopts stricter policy on cargo

Herb Mathisen
Northern News Services
Published Friday, November 7, 2008

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - With the holiday season quickly approaching, Yellowknifers may want to think twice about wrapping up their Christmas gifts before shipping them, as a policy change with Canadian North will see them searching cargo packages more often.

An employee with Yellowknifer was recently told to open their parcel to have its contents searched by cargo agents before shipping it. The agent said new rules implemented in October required them to search the package.

Kelly Kaylo, vice-president of passenger products and sales with the company, said such searches were not caused by new rules, so much as a company policy change implemented in October.

As a federal regulator, Transport Canada requires airlines to comply with specific security measures to ensure the safety of the air travelling public.

"One of the things, in terms of shipments, is we must verify what the package contents are," said Kaylo. She added this was not a new requirement from Transport Canada.

The regulator gives companies various options, such as holding the package for a specified amount of time, or searching and identifying the contents physically.

Ryan Fawcett, director of cargo services, said the option to have parcels searched made more sense for the company and listed a number of reasons why.

Fawcett said the less frequent Northern flight schedule meant cargo would have to sit in warehouses longer and that limited cargo space was also a factor that led the company to institute the new policy.

"That practically defeated the purpose of what our business is all about, which is moving things as quickly as possible," he said.

Fawcett said he had not heard any complaints about the new policy yet.

The new move will not affect larger, more-frequent shippers like businesses because of the "known" content of their packages.

"There are a large percentage of shippers that have accounts or that ship frequently, and the verification of those contents are already known," she said, adding they won't be required to have their cargo searched. "So this will only, of course, apply to a percentage of the shipping public."

Fawcett said searches will increase.

"There will be more packages that will be searched on this basis, from the perspective of verifying the contents and allowing us to practically move them," said Fawcett.

Canada Post also complies with Transport Canada guidelines since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, said Nicole Lemire, a spokesperson with the company.

She said, however, answering a question will suffice in getting a package shipped.

"We need to make sure that it does not have any non-mailable matter," she said, and listed chemicals and firearms among other things. Post office agents will ask customers if their parcel contains any of these materials.

"That's the extent of the questions that we will ask," she said.

She said should a package look suspicious - for instance if it does not contain a return address - a postal inspector could be summoned and upon their determination, the package could be inspected only by authorization and in the presence of the inspector.

"We process 40 million pieces of mail every day, so we don't open packages," said Lemire.

Kaylo said she was mindful of the customers reservations to have their packages searched, but said it was just like people getting searched to get on the plane.

"The point of the visual verification is to identify what the contents are. Nothing more," she said.

At Christmas, customers' presents in parcels should not be wrapped, as they will be unwrapped for identification by agents.

Kaylo and Fawcett said this also brings the company in line with other airlines, where other carriers do not provide the option to hold the package.

"The policy change has just become more consistent with what all airlines are doing," said Kaylo.

A spokesperson for First Air said they also make sure to adhere strictly to Transport Canada guidelines.

"If it's an unknown shipper, or someone who has never shipped with us before, then we have to hold (the cargo) or go through the contents," said Mike Olson, director of sales.