Transport Minister Omar Alghabra knew last spring that federal airport security was short-staffed by 25%, according to a briefing note obtained by Blacklock’s Reporter. At the time, Alghabra put the blame for airport delays on Canadians who were eager to travel after the loosening of Covid restrictions. 

In a May 13 briefing note titled Airport and Flight Delays, staff told Alghabra that the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) was down a quarter of its employees due to layoffs during Covid. 

“The Authority retained 75 percent of its workforce during the pandemic to assist with recovery,” wrote staff. “Screening contractors called back all available personnel in preparation for the summer peak.”

At the time, Alghabra made no public mention of short staffing being responsible for delays experienced by air travellers. “We are witnessing delays across all sectors of our economy that are a result of increasing demand imbalance,” he told the House of Commons on May 6.

Instead, the minister blamed the delays at Canada’s airports on travellers.

“We are seeing an increased demand and appetite for people who want to travel,” Alghabra said June 6. “The supply is trying to catch up.”

Short-staffing in airport security was first disclosed on June 7 in testimony by managers of CATSA at the Senate national finance committee. 

“The problem at the airports today and specifically the busiest airports in Canada relates to the labour market and the staffing of screening officer positions by our third party screening contractors,” testified the vice president of CATSA Nancy Filchett.. “At this time it is not a funding problem.”

“Does that mean we have a shortage?” asked Senator Éric Forest. “What is the staff shortage to reach pre-pandemic levels?”

“Before the pandemic we had about 7400 screening officers,” testified senior director of operations Kelsey MacTavish.. “Right now we have 6800 and recruitment is ongoing. In the year to come we’re trying to recruit 1000 screening officers.”

To date, Cabinet has not explained why it failed to hire more security staff during the winter as travel restrictions were easing. 

“The Minister should address the critical issues facing our airports so Canadians can understand if the government is doing anything to fix the mess and not simply waiting out the height of peak travel season in an effort to further abdicate their responsibility,” Conservative MP Melissa Lantsman told the Transport, Infrastructure and Communities committee on August 8.

Alghabra is set to testify in committee before August 19 to explain the delays at airports and flight cancellations at Canada’s largest airports in recent months.