Security officials will soon be allowed to carry loaded guns on Canadian airplanes, after the Conservative government beefed up powers for Mounties tasked with preventing hijackings.

The federal government will allow Canada’s “in-flight security officials” to carry a loaded gun aboard a commercial flight. Until now, peace officers, a plane’s pilot and wildlife control officers could have access to an unloaded gun, but airlines were specifically barred from “knowingly allow[ing] a person to transport a loaded firearm on board an aircraft.”

The government declined to say who is considered an “in-flight security official,” but undercover officers travel on planes as part of the RCMP Canadian Air Carrier Protective Program.

The changes were included in an overhaul of the Canadian Aviation Security Regulations, announced by the government on Wednesday. “A Canadian in-flight security officer who is acting in the course of their duties may carry or have access to a loaded firearm on board an aircraft operated by an air carrier,” says the new rule, published in the Canada Gazette.

A news release summarizing the changes made no mention of the gun issue, but said the overall changes take effect July 14.

RCMP issued a brief statement to The Globe on Wednesday, saying the wording “makes it clear” that officers, in the course of their duties, can carry the loaded guns. “For security purposes and given the covert nature of the Program, the RCMP cannot provide further information. The RCMP will continue to work within the regulations that govern our authorities on this matter,” RCMP Corporal Laurence Trottier said in a written statement, an apparent reference to the CACPP.

The Gazette summary said the gun provision was “to clarify” who can carry a loaded gun on a plane, though the rules had specifically barred that. RCMP did not immediately respond to an after-hours request about whether officers already carried loaded guns.

The RCMP created the CACPP after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, a program that places “specially-trained RCMP officers on board select Canadian registered aircraft” to “ensure the protection of Canadian and international air travellers” on domestic and cross-border flights, according to the RCMP website.

Spokespeople for Transport Canada and Minister Lisa Raitt declined to answer questions and referred The Globe to the RCMP on Wednesday. Air Canada, WestJet and Porter airlines also declined comment.

OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Jul. 03 2014, 7:35 AM EDT
Last updated Thursday, Jul. 03 2014, 7:37 AM EDT