the nerve wracked traveler

The security guard had a pinched face as she told me to open my bag. It was Monday, the tail end of the Christmas rush, and looking at this cranky…

The security guard had a pinched face as she told me to open my bag.

It was Monday, the tail end of the Christmas rush, and looking at this cranky woman it was clear the holiday season had been taxing.

In Nanaimo, BC, passengers must watch as airport security scans every bag — checked and carry-on — they take aboard the plane.

Today, something in my checked luggage — the bags stowed under the plane — had attracted attention. This woman was clearly looking for something.

I knew what it was.

And she’d missed it.

“You’re probably looking for this,” I said, reaching into the bag and pulling out the pistol.

* * *

There are probably people who see these folks as dark-clad guardians of public safety.

Not me.

I see them as evidence that society has gone off its rocker.

Flying in this country used to be if not enjoyable, then tolerable.

These days, it’s a hassle at best, a nightmare at worst.

The lineups are a bummer.

It’s a hassle not being able to carry a coffee cup aboard. Or a litre of water. Or some lip balm.

And yeah, it’s irksome not being able to pop out to the airport mall to buy a last-minute tube of after-shave balm at the Body Shop — you can’t be sure if it will make it back through security. Who would chance it?

But these are, at worst, irritants.

It’s the erosion of our freedom and peace of mind that is most troubling.

Today, at security checkpoints, they ask us to remove our laptops and they search them for explosive residue.

In the US, they’ve gone one step further.

These days, US courts have allowed security folks to do random searches of the contents of laptops carried by air travelers.

They’re looking for child porn, say officials. And that’s a perfect shield — who can oppose that? But now that the process is in place, who knows what US officials will start looking for? Internet visits to a dubious website? E-mails critical of the country, or its leaders?

And there is the infamous no-fly list that rendered Maher Arar to a Syrian jail. Arar was cleared by a public inquiry in Canada, but remains on the murky US list.

How many other Canadians are on it? It’s impossible to know, but it has to give some citizens pause before hopping on a plane.

Of course, Canadian security is still less invasive.

But for how long?

A few years ago, we could travel carrying nothing more than a driver’s licence.

Today, most carry passports, even for travel within Canada — because it’s easier.

That is a troubling development.

It’s all being done to curb terrorism.

However, it’s getting hard to pinpoint who the terrorists are.

Where does the terror lie?

Are air travelers afraid of being blown up by a shoe bomb? Or are they nervous about being secretly detained by a national government after their name comes up on a watch list?

It’s an interesting question.

The average Canadian has a better chance of being killed by a drunk driver or the flu than by al-Qaida.

Yet where is the federal government’s focus?

* * *

In Nanaimo, the security guard took the gun from my hands.

It was clearly a cap pistol — about the size of a business card with a red glob of plastic stuck on in its barrel.

My son had given it to his brother for Christmas. He’d flown it down to Vancouver Island with no problem.

Getting it home would be another matter entirely.

“You can’t send this,” said the stone-faced security guard.

“We flew it down,” I said.

“Where did you come from?” she asked.

“Whitehorse,” I said.

She nodded her head. It seemed to me she was making a mental note of the infraction. Inwardly I winced, wondering if someone was going to be reprimanded back home.

“It wouldn’t have been a problem had you declared it,” said the woman manning the X-ray machine.

Declared it? A harmless toy packed in our checked bags?

The supervisor who rifled through the bag confiscated the cap gun.

I still don’t know why.

Who’s gonna argue with ‘em? They hold all the power, you’ve got none.

And that’s where the problem begins.