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Air travellers’ losses are charities’ gains

Jan. 21, 2008, Ottawa - Gary McCarthy, the operations manager of a foodbank distribution centre in the nation's capital, surveys the latest detritus from the war on terror with a practiced eye.


January 21, 2008
By Bruce Cheadle

Jan. 21, 2008, Ottawa – Gary McCarthy, the operations manager of a foodbank
distribution centre in the nation's capital, surveys the latest
detritus from the war on terror with a practiced eye.

A jar of peanut butter, shaving cream, sunscreens, tubes of
toothpaste _ even a mickey of rum _ nestle among four large
cardboard boxes packed with items confiscated from travellers at
Ottawa's international airport.

“Most of it has been opened,'' McCarthy said at the bustling
food bank warehouse, which sends food and other goods to 128 member
agencies in the region.

“We go through each item and if there's sufficient quantity in
it, we will issue it. The feedback from our agencies is very
positive.

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“They put it to use. It's going to (street) people, families. It
helps them out tremendously.''

Each week, hundreds of thousands of banned items are collected
from would-be travellers across Canada by airport screeners for the
Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA.)

Despite repeated public awareness campaigns, the confiscated
goods just keep on coming _ 600,000 items a week at Toronto's
Pearson airport alone.

The restrictions _ related to the ongoing fall-out from the
terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 _ limit travellers from packing
most liquids, gels and aerosols in containers bigger than 100 ml,
100 grams or 3.4 oz in their carry-on luggage. Most pointy objects,
such as scissors, knives and tools, are also banned from aircraft
cabins.

At most Canadian airports, said CATSA spokesman Mathieu Larocque,
the confiscated material “goes straight to the garbage.''

“We're definitely concerned about the amount of waste it
produces and that's why we really put a strong emphasis on: 'check
the regulations, call us ahead (of the flight),''' said Larocque.

Good Samaritans employed by at least two of Canada's major
airports saw the piles of confiscated goods as an opportunity, not a
liability.

Pastor Tom Kartzmark at Ottawa international enlisted three local
charities last year to make regular pick-ups, provided they signed
waivers taking responsibility for the goods.

Kartzmark separates out “the sharpies'' _ knives, scissors and
such _ for an annual auction that benefits the airport chaplain's
work. The rest goes out to the community.

Not much goes to waste, said the foodbank's McCarthy. Even a
bottle of rum and a can of beer will find their way to programs that
cater to chronic and incurable alcoholics.

“It doesn't end up in a landfill when there could be a good use
for it,'' said McCarthy.

“It is really helpful because it's going to individuals that
normally couldn't afford to buy this, street people. They're able to
get personal care items like shampoo, toothpaste. There's a whole
array of products.''

At Montreal's Trudeau airport, saleable items like scissors and
screwdrivers are given to a charity auction once a year, reducing
somewhat the four metric tonnes of confiscated goods that are
collected every week.

Most of Canada's airports have programs that allow passengers to
mail forbidden goods to themselves (at their own time and expense)
rather than lose them. In Winnipeg, the airport UPS Store that
handles this service also gives travellers the option of donating
the items to charity.

At Halifax International Airport, Chaplain Peter Freeman collects
confiscated material once a week and holds a “flea market'' on the
airport mezzanine three or four times a year.

Scissors of all descriptions, pocket knives, bread and butter
knives, corkscrews, screwdrivers, wrenches _ it all goes into the
mix.

“We had one of those air impact wrenches used to tighten the
wheel nuts on your car,'' marvelled Freeman.

The proceeds, up to $4,000 a year, are used to fund the airport
chaplain's work, including ministering to the 5,000 to 6,000 people
who work at the Halifax airport and also dealing with a regular
stream of stranded, distraught or destitute travellers.

“It's astounding to me that I can go down and literally get a
box of stuff every week, and some weeks there's more,'' Freeman said
of the banned goods brought by travellers to CATSA's screening
lines.

“With a slight bit of tongue in cheek I say, 'God bless them all
for being so forgetful.'

While CATSA screens the passengers, it is the individual airport
authorities who have to dispose of the confiscated items. That puts
airport workers in an awkward dilemma, said Larocque.

But when volunteers such as Freeman, Kartzmark and McCarthy step
forward, everyone wins.

“The CATSA people are very good in explaining why things can't
go onboard (aircraft),'' Freeman said from Halifax.

“And I think if someone presses and says, 'What are you gonna do
with this?' they are able to say it goes to a good cause.''

THE CANADIAN PRESS