More than four years and billions of dollars after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, Canada's transportation industry says it is as secure as any on the planet - although some admit determined extremists can always find a way to strike.
But more than any other industry, the sector is still the target of choice for terrorists, says security expert Brian Flemming.
Flemming - who created and chaired the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) following 9/11 and now is part of the newly formed Advisory Council on National Security created by the federal government - says targets tend to be transportation-related because the terrorists want to "do something that appeals to the media and television that horrifies people, and the best way to do that is to kill a lot of innocent people on a plane or a commuter train coming into town."
But industry has responded to the threats by being responsive and co-operative, and ensuring they are as secure as possible, he says.
The former head of CATSA, which is responsible for airport security across the country, says Canada already had a leg up on anti-terrorist tactics because of the 1985 Air India bombing that killed 329 people. Canadian officials worked hard to change the system in the wake of that attack, he says, specifically how airports operated and how airlines dealt with their customers.
However, following 9/11, it became apparent the steps Canada and other countries had taken were not sufficient to stop a terrorist attack. Citing the deadly bombings of commuter trains in London and Madrid as examples, Flemming believes the federal government will have tough budget decisions ahead as it reacts to new threats.
The question, he says, is whether Canada should spend more to protect its urban transit systems as a result of those incidents.
"Every time something happens, that question will be asked over and over again - and the big question will be how do we do the same or better job for less money? That's the whole risk-management area.
"The threat is only constrained by the limits of the human imagination," he adds. "The main thing for the government and for private industry is to figure out what the public expects and try to reasonably meet those expectations without blowing out your budget."
The Air Transport Association of Canada (ATAC) says Canadian air carriers fully support efforts to reduce the risk of terrorist attacks, although they want to see some aspects of the air-security system changed.
"You want to run a safe business where your passengers feel they're safe," says Mike Scrobica, ATAC's vice-president of industry monetary affairs. "From our standpoint, we have a security regime that is up there with most of the western world - outside of what the Israelis are doing. It is comparable to the British, Americans and Japanese."
Scrobica says airlines and airports have already or are introducing several measures to secure the skies: Cockpits have been fitted with armoured doors resistant to bullets and hand grenades; biometric ID cards - which include fingerprint and iris scan technology - are being issued to employees with access to restricted areas; employees are being scanned on a random basis; and, as of Jan. 1, 2006, all luggage is screened for explosives But all the measures adopted since 2001 have come at a cost - both in dollars and passenger convenience - and Scrobica says some features of security must be revisited.
"It's been hugely expensive for our industry and we've got a big hassle factor, given that while we've added to our prohibited items list, the Americans have backed off a bit (to allow certain items such as scissors and corkscrews) and we haven't done it here in Canada.
"So we continue to empty departure lounges ... because of a corkscrew, which will be onboard most flights anyway."
It isn't just the air industry that is working hard to reduce threats. Canadian ports - which participate in the U.S.-led international ship and port facility security (ISPS) code - say millions of dollars have been spent to batten down their security hatches.
Still, Mark Erdman, spokesman for the Fraser River Port Authority in Vancouver, says it is "pretty tough" to secure a port due to the myriad modes of transportation in and out of a facility.
"You've got rail transit, road transit and water transit. We work with a lot of monitoring and cameras and security at the gates, and you can control it to a degree, but someone who is really determined to get in and wreak havoc will probably get in and wreak havoc," Erdman says. "You look at 9/11 and nobody foresaw that people would consider flying an airplane into a building."
The Fraser River port has 270 kilometres of shoreline to guard, which includes the river plus three deepwater ports. Nevertheless, Erdman says, the Canadian ports are spending millions and working closely with the federal government to secure their facilities.
North American railways have also "excelled" in making the sector secure, according to security expert Flemming.
Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) spokesman Ed Greenberg says since 9/11, North American freight railroads have developed a progressive series of security measures and are constantly looking to enhance procedures as the threats change.
Installing surveillance and monitoring technology and protecting sensitive information on the transportation of regulated commodities - or hazardous goods - are examples of how CPR and other railways try to keep the rails safe, he says.
CPR also has its own "highly trained" police service that patrols the company's rail lines and yards, he adds.
"Our employees ... all receive regular training from our police service in terms of being more aware of this sort of issue. That's part of the plan, but we have a number of other security and survey measures that I can't go into publicly."
Nor does CPR want to speculate out loud about the kinds of threats it faces.
"Let me just say that our police service is working with RCMP, local police agencies and customs agencies on both sides of the border. We're all very aware of any (threat) issue that is out there in the world today," says Greenberg.
Meanwhile, opportunities abound for sharp entrepreneurs able to develop high-tech security equipment.
The worldwide market for airport security services alone is about $60 billion, says John Reid, president of the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATAAlliance) - a coalition of Canadian high-tech companies. He says while Canada is largely a niche player within the global industry, it does have some core strengths.
"We've got some robotic applications, sensor devices, radio tag identifiers ... there are pockets of excellence" in Canada, Reid says. "It's a significant opportunity because everything is a global market, so if you're going to pick areas where you're going to develop new niche expertise, that could be taking an existing product and seeing whether it could be applied to airport security."
Ottawa-based Frontline Robotics is just one Canadian company that recognized opportunities in the transportation industry early on. Among its products are mobile, intelligent robots to detect terrorist threats.
The company is testing its system in Korea and will soon begin trials at Ottawa's international airport. Frontline is also in talks with "a major airport" south of the border, says company CEO Rob Richards.
Richards says with hundreds of airports in North America and thousands worldwide, opportunities for companies like his abound, especially in today's geopolitical landscape.
"It's a huge market, given the world we live in - unfortunately - where there's an elevated level of threat, and transportation infrastructure is high on the list of terrorist targets because it has such an impact on economies," he says.
The company, which began operations early in 2001, looks forward to wrapping up its trials this year and to begin rolling out commercial products by 2007.
(John Ludwick can be reached at email@example.com)