Imagine that you are a young mother travelling with your two-year-old daughter. You arrive at the airport. It’s busy, as always. You’re jostling suitcases, while watching over an excited toddler and you finally get to the ticket counter, only to be told that you will not be permitted onto the flight.
The ticket was paid for weeks in advance. Your passports and other documentation are all in order. You simply cannot imagine what the problem is.
The attendant explains that it’s not you, but your daughter. Apparently, your two-year-old is on Canada’s no-fly list.
This is precisely what happened to Amber Cammish from Vancouver Island – and she is not alone. Many other young Canadian children and adults have found themselves in the same predicament. So what’s the story?
Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the fear that terrorists would continue to target the airline industry, Canada, like other countries, created a list of individuals who were suspected of being involved in terrorist activities and would not be allowed to board an airplane.
Known as the Canadian Passenger Protect Program, or as it’s become commonly known, the no-fly list, it is undoubtedly a much-needed tool in the fight against terrorism. But Canada’s Passenger Protect Program is deeply flawed.
Unlike the system set up in some other countries, like the United States, Canada simply maintains a list of names. It does not use dates of birth, sex or any other piece of information to ensure that two people with the same name aren’t mistaken for one another. Thus, if someone has a name that is similar to someone else who’s listed on Canada’s no-fly list, that person will be flagged whenever he or she travels.
Just ask Stephen Evans, the former chief technology officer at Kijiji and current head of digital technology at the Toronto Star. He travels all over the world on business, and on a recent flight, he too discovered that he was on the list.
One would think that it would be simple enough to tell the government to take his name off the list, or at the very least, to provide some evidence to demonstrate that he is not the same Stephen Evans as the one who was put on the list. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.
There are hundreds of false positives that show up on Canada’s no-fly list and it isn’t possible for individuals to do anything about it. It would require the system to be completely overhauled, which would cost millions of dollars. However, given the most famous case of a Canadian who ended up on the no-fly list, Maher Arar, the horrors he went through and the cost to taxpayers of millions of dollars to make it right, surely it’s time that Canada fix this problem.
Thankfully, there are many politicians from all parties who feel the same way. Along with Conservative and NDP support, No Fly List Kids, a new organization made up of hundreds of Canadians whose children and grandchildren are on the list, has also obtained the written support of over 77 Liberal caucus members, with many others also committed to write the Ministry of Public Safety, to ensure that there is a guarantee in next year’s budget to right this wrong. Amongst the high-profile Liberals who are standing up for their constituents are Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, Wayne Easter, chair of the standing committee on finance, Rob Oliphant and Kate Young.
This is an idea whose time has come. Without change to this defective system, many more innocent Canadians will be affected. And children who come of age will spend a lifetime dealing with his bureaucratic nightmare. (Oh, and by the way, Canadian Jewish children are also on the no-fly list.)
Indeed, given the serious flaws in the present system, it is reasonable to argue that our very charter rights are being compromised