Canada's air-security agency has ordered officers to stop the routine screening of travellers of the opposite sex. Instead, passengers who set off an alarm as they walk through airport metal detectors must be searched by a screening officer of the same sex.
The official policy change was quietly disseminated by the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) in December to the firms it contracts to handle security at 89 airports across the country.
A copy of the bulletin was obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.
Once a metal-detector alarm is triggered at a passenger checkpoint, the screening of a traveller can be invasive. A hand-held device is run along all parts of the body scanning for metal. Belts can be ordered unbuckled, shoes removed.
A spokesman for the agency said "no particular incident" triggered the new bulletin. Rather the change is "simply CATSA's desire to improve its policies and procedures," said Mathieu Larocque.
Passengers already have the right to request that any physical search prompted by an alarm be conducted out of public view. In such cases, two officers of the same sex as the person being searched must attend. One officer carries out the actual examination while the other acts as a witness to ensure no improper activity takes place.