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New Toronto-based coalition calls on feds to develop national trusted-traveller program

Following three years of turbulence at Canadian airports in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, a Toronto-based coalition is calling on the federal government to implement its own trusted-traveller program.

At a news conference at Pearson airport in Toronto, the group -- dubbed Innovate. Travel. Canada. -- said the country is in desperate need of a Canadian-led program that lets airports pre-vet low-risk travellers to help cut down on screening times for both domestic and international departures.

Unlike Nexus, which is a joint border crossing program between the United States and Canada, the group said the proposed expansion of a national trusted traveller-program would reduce security inspection of shoes and laptops and allow more passengers to be safely vetted.

Deboarh Flint, president and CEO of Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA) -- which oversees operations at Pearson -- pointed to the U.S.-based PreCheck system as a model that could work north of the border.

“What this does is make lines shorter for [those who qualify], but it also makes lines shorter for everyone else that is travelling through the airport,” she said at the Thursday morning event.

Flint said that while she’s pleased the federal government launched a pilot trusted-traveller program at Pearson and other Canadian airports last year, she’s hoping for a scaled-up expansion as the busy summer travel season approaches.

Travellers make their way through Pearson International Airport in Toronto Monday, Nov. 14, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

“We're asking the government to move from that pilot program phase and launch a national trusted-traveller program,” she said, adding that the free program would be optional for all Canadian citizens and permanent residents.

Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) President and CEO Rocco Rossi championed the effort and said such a program would help to boost tourism and overall commerce in Ontario and across Canada following choppy skies the past few years.

“The OCC recently issued our annual Ontario economic report, which showed business confidence in this province is at its lowest level since we began measuring this about a decade ago. And inflation, supply chain, and labor issues are bad enough,” he said.

In the same breath, Rossi described Pearson airport as the “front door” to the Ontario and Canadian economies and said if the issues of the past three years persist, tourists and businesses will go elsewhere.

RELATED: Pearson Airport to implement 'hard limit' on number of flights allowed during peak times

“If your front door on a major retail street sticks, is blocked, it's complicated to get in, it's too heavy to open: guess what, people have options. They will go next door down the street. That is not acceptable,” he said.

The problems at Pearson reached new heights last summer, due in part to staffing issues and COVID-19 travel measures that were still in effect at the time, and made international headlines after months of delays and flight cancellations.

Some of those travel headaches have been addressed in the months that followed thanks to the introduction of new security tools and increased public access to operational information throughput the airport.

More recently, Canada and the U.S. announced a new bilateral workaround to the Nexus trusted-traveller system aimed at expanding enrolment capacity after most Canadian enrolment centres closed following the onset of the pandemic.

With files from The Canadian Press Top Stories

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