Almost a decade after clamping a lid on the results of airport security tests, the federal government is still refusing to reveal the numbers.
Transport Department inspectors regularly gauge the effectiveness of security at airports across Canada by trying to slip guns, knives and other weapons past screeners who search passengers and carry-on baggage.
The department declined to release the test scores to The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, citing the need to protect national security, personal details and information related to "testing or auditing procedures."
It also refused to disclose aggregate data for Canada that would not divulge the results for specific airports.
The department would say only that it conducted a total of 1,090 "infiltration tests" from January to the beginning of December 2009.
It took Transport more than 18 months to provide the response.
The Canadian Press has asked the federal information commissioner, an ombudsman for users of the law, to review the decision. Such investigations by the commissioner often take several years.
The Transport Department used to release infiltration test figures to the media either informally or under the access law. They revealed that staff successfully sneaked items including handguns, knives, dynamite sticks and fake bombs by security personnel. Failure rates in these tests ranged from six to 19 per cent.
The department stopped disclosing such information after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, on the United States.
"For reasons of security, Transport Canada does not divulge details related to operations including results of infiltration testing," said Maryse Durette, a department spokeswoman.
The decision to conceal the results is "deplorable," said Liberal Sen. Colin Kenny, former chairman of the upper chamber's national security and defence committee.
"I think that there should be a far greater level of transparency in the tests," he said in an interview. "Taxpayers right now have no idea whether they're getting value for money."
In a December 2004 report, Kenny's committee proposed that infiltration test data be disclosed after a delay of 12 to 18 months, giving officials time to fix any problems while still keeping the public informed.
Kenny doesn't accept the federal argument that publication of test results could imperil airport security.
"That is a bureaucrat's way of saying, 'I am afraid of the consequences of you discovering my incompetence.' And the burden needs to be on the state to demonstrate why it would jeopardize security," he said.
"How about fixing the problem? And what will ensure that the problem is fixed is by making public how often the testers are able to penetrate the system."
In a 2005 examination of air security practices, Auditor General Sheila Fraser noted that although she had access to infiltration test data, she couldn't include the figures in her report because Transport had chosen to classify them.
"How can Parliament scrutinize the spending and performance of security and intelligence activities if key information must be kept secret?" she asked. "How will members of Parliament conduct an informed debate about security and intelligence matters?"
She suggested creation of a parliamentary committee whose members would be sworn to secrecy so they could review classified information from federal agencies. Similar committees have existed for years in Britain and the United States.
Screening officers who fail an infiltration test generally receive additional training and, in some cases, they are penalized, the commission of inquiry into the 1985 Air India bombing said last year in its report.
Evidence before the commission "did not clearly demonstrate a need to disclose the failure rates of infiltration tests," the report added.
"Instead, the experts who testified at the commission placed greater importance on ensuring that deficiencies are identified and corrected."