Canada's No-Fly List Runs Into Rights Storm
Date: Saturday, November 18 2006
Man's experience illustrates problem with controversial security measure
Nov. 18, 2006. 03:47 AM
Canada's no-fly list — intended to keep suspected terrorists from boarding airplanes — is starting to run into turbulence just weeks before the security program is implemented in airports across the country.
Critics of the list, known as Passenger Protect, say it could lead to the abuse of civil liberties, and are not satisfied by the federal government's efforts to ease their concerns.
Others are questioning the effectiveness of no-fly lists. Many security and law enforcement officials interviewed by the Star this week believe there are already immigration or law enforcement checks in place to ensure known terrorists or those deemed a risk to passengers are stopped from boarding flights.
Of the many security measures introduced after 9/11, no-fly lists have been among the most mysterious, ridiculed, and in the high-profile case of Canadian Maher Arar, have had tragic consequences.
Shahid Mahmood of Toronto is among those Canadians who are now frightened to fly to the United States due to questions surrounding no-fly lists, and he encourages others to challenge the government's plan to implement its own list by next year.
Since he was denied a ticket for a flight from Vancouver to Victoria in 2004 because his name was flagged by Air Canada, Mahmood, an architect and freelance editorial cartoonist, has spent almost three years hounding government departments and the airline for answers.
Among the unresolved questions surrounding Passenger Protect is how precise the criteria will be in compiling the list, how information will be shared, and whether the project that has already cost $13 million will be effective or is simply a public relations show of force.
"Given the precautions we've already taken, why is this necessary?" asks the Canadian Civil Liberties Association's Alexi Woods.
And if it's not necessary, could the list do more damage than good?
The American no-fly list, which has more than 80,000 names on it, was created hastily in the wake of 9/11, and is regarded as unwieldy and unreliable.
There have been countless stories of mistaken identities — such as the "terrorist toddler," a 4-year-old whose name is flagged whenever he flies with his family.
Transport Canada officials say they have learned from the U.S. mistakes, insisting that the need to meet specific criteria and have the consensus of a committee make the Canadian list more sound.
But ambiguities remain.
Transport Canada says the only people listed will be those who have been "involved in a terrorist group and who can reasonably be suspected will endanger the security of an aircraft or the safety of the public," and those convicted of aviation crimes.
[Proofreader's note: this article was edited for spelling and typos on November 20, 2006]