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by Lisa Goudy

They’re on select Canadian aircraft, unidentifiable to the public eye. They provide additional defence - but there’s about to be fewer of them this year.

The RCMP air marshal program is going to face a 25 per cent budget slash in April 2011. It will reduce the staffing of the program because the funding will be reduced by $12.1 million. The cut, made public on Jan. 10, has met with mixed criticisms.

The RCMP released a brief prepared statement on the matter. Sgt. Julie Gagnon, the RCMP’s Media Relations Officer, said the RCMP is offering no further comments at this time.

According to the statement, the air marshal program is part of the Canadian Air Carrier Protection Program (CACPP), created in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks.

“The CACPP is recognized as a world leader among the international air marshal community for its operational and training model,” said the statement.

It involves “specialized covert in-flight security officers” on certain flights, both domestic and international. RCMP officers are disguised as ordinary citizens in plain clothing and are highly trained to handle terrorist activity on a plane if it should occur.

The officers carry semi-automatic handguns and are trained to fight in enclosed spaces, as the final method of defence against terrorist attacks.

At the University of Regina campus, public reaction was mixed and public awareness of the cut was low.

Student Evan Andrews has flown before and he doesn’t see any problems with the RCMP’s decision to cut it down.

“I think that’d probably be good. That money could be used elsewhere, like on the streets and actual work in the community,” said Andrews.

He believes that if there was going to be any danger, it is unlikely to be on a flight and, as a result, this will have no effect on his decision to fly again in the future.

“I feel like we compartmentalize Canada away from the United States and their current issues. Even though we are involved in Afghanistan and stuff, I really don’t see that we’re the target,” Andrews said.

“Maybe there’ll be international backlash but any backlash will probably just be from a heavy hand from the States,” he said.

On the contrary, students Brittany Wilson and Grace Mutafya said they believe that the cutback is a mistake.

“Just in case there was a terrorist and there was no one on the plane to help, then everyone would be screwed, basically,” said Wilson.

Wilson and Mutafya both said that this won’t necessarily affect their decision to fly again.

“It just kind of keeps you more aware of your surroundings,” said Mutafya.

The RCMP statement reassures citizens that the budget slash will not affect passenger safety on flights since the program will still be in place.

“The CACPP was identified as an area where efficiencies could be achieved,” said the statement. “The CACPP will continue to strategically place in-flight security officers on flights at risk, while gathering intelligence on possible threats.”

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