Canada's 2,200 air traffic controllers walked off the job at 4 a.m. yesterday to back demands for higher wages, halting almost all domestic and international flights to and from Canadian airports and stranding thousands of passengers.

The only pocket of resistance to the strike by the Canadian Air Traffic Controllers Association was in Quebec City, but the airport there was reported closed anyway. The Quebec controllers are members of a French-speaking aviation group at odds with the national body over use of French in Quebec air space.

Canada's major airlines government-owned Air Canada and privately-owned CP canceled most flights. A airports and the two airlines said they would bus passengers to U.S. airports. Transatlantic flights by international carriers such as Pan American and British Airways were rerouted to U.S. airports.

The strike was called after the government said it would introduce legislation to stop rotating stoppages planned by the controllers to gain a 12.6 per cent wage package boost.

A spokesman for the Air Transport Association of Canada said the industry might lose between $5 million and $7 million a day because of the walkout.

The controllers group said it had sent Transport Minister Otto Lang a telegram offering to resume contract talks broken off last Thursday and saying the controllers could be back at work within six hours of any agreement.