Wednesday, December 22, 2010


What a shame...But this sheds light on another issue: the failure of our screening systems and Transport Canada policies regarding security screenings of  employees. This is not the first time screenings have been in the spotlight, in previous occasions baggage handlers at various airports were found to have participated in criminal activities. It is obvious that the system needs stricter hiring rules.

Transport Canada defends employee screening after flight attendant convicted

Transport Canada defends employee screening after flight attendant convicted
By Randy Boswell, Postmedia News
December 21, 2010

Mandeep Shahi, a 27-year-old airline hostess from Mississauga, Ont., was arrested in August at London's main airport after British detectives linked her to a drug-dealing network that was importing cocaine and marijuana from Canada for sale in the U.K.

Det.-Insp. Sarah Staff, one of the Metropolitan Police Service investigators involved in the "Operation Dejay" arrests that brought down the smuggling operation, said following Shahi's sentencing that the Canadian woman had "abused her position as a member of cabin crew and is now facing the consequences of her corruption."

Transport Canada, which oversees the system of police checks and other pre-employment screening to ensure the trustworthiness of airline crew members and other airport staff across the country, told Postmedia News on Tuesday that Shahi's hiring as a flight attendant didn't set off any alarm bells.

And the department gave no immediate indication that the security breach in Shahi's case would prompt a review of the special exemptions for air industry workers when they take flights or pass through airports.

"There are specific security measures in place to balance aviation security and efficiency of flights, which are harmonized with screening requirements for crew members in the United States," Transport Canada spokeswoman Maryse Durette said in an email response to a Postmedia News inquiry.

"In addition, every individual who requires access to the restricted areas of designate airports across Canada must first obtain a Transportation Security Clearance before a Restricted Area Identity Card can be issued," she added, noting that applicants for security clearance "must provide basic biographical information, fingerprints, a photograph and five contiguous years of verifiable and reliable information on their work, study and residency."

Shahi was also subject to a "rigorous program of background checks" involving CSIS — Canada's spy agency — the RCMP and the federal department of Citizenship and Immigration, Durette added.

"In this case, when the Transportation Security Clearance was initially granted, the subject had no previous criminal convictions or known links to organized crime which would have prevented her from obtaining a Transportation Security Clearance."

Earlier this week, an Air Canada spokesperson also said that "no anomalies arose" during the security-clearance checks that led to Shahi's hiring.

Judge Michael Gledhill, who presided over Shahi's sentencing last week in a British court, was quoted in U.K. press reports telling Shahi and three co-accused that they "well knew" that Canada "is not regarded as a country that poses a great risk of prohibited drugs being brought to this country."

He added: "The fact of the matter is, as an officer who works at Heathrow told the court, there is virtually a nil risk that flights coming into this country from Canada would be subjected to random checks of crew."

Investigators used closed-circuit TV recordings from a London hotel to link the Air Canada flight attendant to three British men who had been under surveillance for months for suspected drug-dealing.

Shahi, according to a statement from London city police, was seen on the hotel security video on March 26 after the arrival of a flight from Canada.

She delivered a blue travel bag to a room occupied by Baljinder Nijjar, a 28-year-old London man with family links to Shahi.

According to the Metropolitan Police Service statement, Nijjar passed the "drugs-laden" travel bag to co-conspirator Simon Howard-Harwood, 28, at the same hotel.

He then gave the bag to 53-year-old London cab driver Ghulem Malik, described as the drug network's courier.

Malik was arrested by detectives who found a kilogram of cocaine in the bag Shahi had delivered from the airport.

A subsequent search of Howard-Harwood's hotel room turned up three more kilograms of the drug. And further evidence led to a 25-kilogram stash of marijuana — worth an estimated $240,000 — at another London address.

The three men were arrested and charged in March, but police didn't nab Shahi until she returned to London five months later on another flight from Canada.

All four of those involved in the smuggling scheme have now been convicted and sentenced. Along with Shahi's eight-year prison term for transporting drugs, Nijjar was sentenced to 12 years as the operation's pointman.

Howard-Harwood faces a nine-year sentence and Malik was given a three-year jail term.

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