|The Ottawa Citizen|
As many as 1,000 airline employees are unable to get the security clearances they need to work in airports because Transport Canada requires difficult-to-obtain documentation from time they spent overseas.
To get an airport security pass, anyone who has lived more than three months outside Canada in the previous five years must provide documentation of their activities from police or security services in the foreign country -- a process that can be slow and in some cases impossible.
While the requirement hits recent immigrant workers hard, many skilled airline employees who have worked abroad find they are unable to get aviation jobs when they return to Canada, says Mike Skrobica, vice-president of the Air Transport Association of Canada, an airline lobby group.
"We have instances where we have pilots and aircraft maintenance engineers posted overseas on contract. They come back expecting to get a pass because they've been working for a Canadian company -- they're Canadian citizens -- and they're denied."
While it's relatively easy for employees who worked in the U.S. to produce police documents needed for background checks, some countries, such as Sudan and South Africa, keep no records of foreign workers. Others, such as Germany, refuse to pass on the information when requested, he said.
Mr. Skrobica accuses Transport Canada of changing its policy this summer without consulting the airlines first.
"There are a whole bunch of human rights concerns here. Absolutely law-abiding Canadians citizens, because of a policy change done by fiat, are now unable to obtain employment in their field in Canada."
But Transport Canada denies it has modified its policy on security clearances.
"The information provided by any applicant has to be adequate, reliable, and verifiable, normally covering a period of five years," said spokeswoman Vanessa Vermette.
"That's been standard policy since we started issuing clearances in 1986."
The Airport Restricted Area Access passes give airline employees access to the "airside" of airports and are required for mechanics, security guards, cleaners, pilots and check-in agents.
One employee who lost her job with the airline Jetsgo last month launched legal action against Transport Canada, alleging that she was unfairly denied a security clearance because of time spent in China.
Diana Stefanova, 28, had worked as a flight attendant for Hainan Airlines for four years after studying in a travel and tourism program at Toronto's Seneca College. She originally went to China on a co-op program and stayed to help pay off her student loans.
Ms. Stefanova returned to Canada, and this spring took a job as a passenger check-in agent at Pearson Airport. She was working on a temporary security pass while her application for a permanent card was processed. But Transport Canada told Ms. Stefanova that she didn't have adequate documentation from Chinese police and could not be given a clearance. She lost her job.
"I had been granted a security pass in China, by China, and I can't get one here, where I am a citizen. It's just crazy."
She had hoped her experience in the industry and her ability to speak Czech and Mandarin Chinese would help land a job with an airline. But now she finds herself effectively blocked from working in the field.
"It's the same thing as telling a doctor you can't work in a hospital. I was sent by school to China, I'm still paying student loans, so it's very frustrating."
Ms. Stefanova has asked the Federal Court of Canada to overturn the decision and force Transport Canada to review her application for a clearance. The department has not yet filed a response to the court action.
A spokesman for Jetsgo said that about 15 of its employees were denied security clearances this year and are unable to work for the company.
"We have been in touch with Transport Canada to make them aware of how it's affecting us in terms of employees," said Brad Cicero. "It does have an impact on hiring policies."
Mr. Skrobica says that he was told by Tranport officials that the new policy would affect only two per cent of security applications.
But he says that, with about 55,000 passes issued each year, more than 1,000 people will be kept from working at Canadian airports.