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Victoria airport security screeners fired after federal agency says they failed to 'protect the travelling public'

Passengers check in at the WestJet counter at Victoria International Airport on Dec. 23, 2021. (CTV News) Passengers check in at the WestJet counter at Victoria International Airport on Dec. 23, 2021. (CTV News)
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Three dozen workers at the Victoria International Airport, including 27 security screeners, have been fired after a federal investigation found "multiple instances" of improper security screening at the site.

The firings last week were the result of a complaint, followed by a weeks-long probe into security screening at the airport, according to the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority.

The investigation began in December and culminated with the termination of 27 screening officers and nine other employees in the screening department, according to the federal agency and the union representing the screeners.

"The investigation identified multiple instances of incomplete screening at a non-passenger checkpoint," CATSA said in a statement to CTV News.

"The findings indicate that the personnel involved did not fulfil their core responsibility to protect the travelling public. As such, CATSA commenced its process to review the continued certification of these individuals as screening officers and advised the employer that their services could not be billed to CATSA under the current circumstances."

But the union contends the federal agency improperly interfered with the security company's own employee review process by pulling the funding and triggering the mass layoff.

Allied Universal is the subcontracted company that provides pre-boarding screening at all public airports in B.C. and the Yukon. The company did not respond to a CTV News request for comment on the layoffs. This story will be updated if a response is received.

Union says CATSA interfered in process

The screeners' union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, says Allied had no plans to terminate the employees following its own investigation into their conduct, which began on Jan. 9.

"The subcontractor intended to return the affected employees to work with a corrective action plan, which included training, determining that their conduct, while it deviated from the standard operating procedures, did not give rise to grounds for termination," the union said in a statement Wednesday.

"Despite the subcontractor's intention to return the affected employees with a corrective action plan, CATSA intervened in the decision-making process, directing the immediate removal of all 27 screening officers and nine salaried employees."

CATSA says that despite telling the subcontractor it could no longer bill the federal agency for the wages of the 36 employees, it did not order their termination.

"Based on a complaint, CATSA initiated an investigation. Preliminary findings led to a more extensive investigation into screening operations at Victoria International Airport in December and January," CATSA spokesperson Suzanne Perseo told CTV News in an email.

"CATSA has not pulled its contract with Allied Universal at this airport," she added. "At no point did CATSA request that the employer terminate the individuals involved."

'The man behind the curtain'

Still, the union maintains CATSA overstepped and put its thumb on the scale before the subcontractor could complete its internal employee discipline process, thereby removing any chance for the employees or the union to appeal the decision.

"CATSA has been operating as 'the man behind the curtain' for far too long. As a Crown corporation, CATSA cannot be allowed without recourse to override labour relation matters with their subcontractors," IAMAW vice-president David Chartrand said in a statement.

"Our members deserve fairness on the job, and the ability to appeal unjust workplace decisions."

The union's local transportation sector chairperson echoed the vice-president's concern about CATSA's actions in the matter, saying the agency removed any procedural fairness from the workplace process.

"Twenty-seven families have lost their ability to earn a living without an appeal, and that is shameful," said IAMAW Transportation District 140 chairperson Tania Canniff in a statement.

The union is appealing to the federal transport minister to intervene in the matter and allow the subcontractor to manage its own employees.

"This would restore due process and allow our members to feel secure in their jobs," Canniff said.

"In the present circumstance, the lack of procedural fairness is appalling and may lead to a dangerous precedent in future matters governed by the collective agreement and legislation."

Transport Canada declined to answer questions about the Victoria airport investigation or similar investigations generally.

"The safety and security of Canadians is always Transport Canada's top priority," spokesperson Hicham Ayoun said in an email to CTV News.

The aviation security agency's contract with Allied United in B.C. and the Yukon is in place until March 31.

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