Young Canadian children on airlines’ security watchlists highlights the secretive world of flight security and one expert says the unsettling trend could lead to further problems for the kids as they get older.
Syed Adam Ahmed, 6, and Naseer Muhammed Ali, 2, are just toddlers but their parents say they have been repeatedly stopped by airport officials before boarding flights over security concerns.
Khudija Vawda-Ali said her son’s trouble began when he was 10-weeks-old and the family had trouble boarding a flight to Jamaica.
“They patted him down,” she told Global News Monday. “They didn’t open his diaper, but they checked all around it to make sure we didn’t conceal anything in there, which was pretty scary and pretty strange at the same time.”
The story follows closely on the heels of Adam Ahmed, who while travelling with his father to the Winter Classic in Boston, had trouble boarding a flight because he was on Air Canada’s security risk list, and was flagged “Deemed High Profile.”
— Sulemaan Ahmed (@sulemaan) December 31, 2015
Adam’s mother Khadija Cajee said the family had tried contacting Transport Canada and Public Safety Canada to resolve the issue – though the list is coordinated by the airline.
“They said basically they can’t acknowledge if there is or isn’t a list or [whether] his name is or is not on it,” Cajee said. “It’s basically a non-answer answer.”
WATCH: 6-year-old flagged as security risk in Toronto
Canadian airlines are required to enforce the Canadian no-fly list for domestic flights and the Secure Flight Program created by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration for flights passing through American airspace.
“Like all airlines we must comply with the law with respect to the Secure Flight Program, which helps ensure the safety and security of all our customers,” said Peter Fitzpatrick, an Air Canada spokesperson, in an email.
“Nonetheless, we will review this matter to determine what measures are available to facilitate future travel.”
Emily Gilbert, an associate professor of Canadian Studies at the University of Toronto, said there are a number of reasons why a person could end up on a list including having the same name as someone on a government no-fly list.
“It could be a proximity to a name, so not even the exact name but if it’s close enough to another name,” said Gilbert. “Because we don’t even know what kinds of information are gathered for those lists it’s hard to know whether just typing someone’s name wrong in the first instance would have generated this kind of security concern.”
Gilbert says children in the U.S. can appear on “no-fly” lists, but while the U.S. has a system for removing names it can be more difficult here in Canada.
“It’s all very, very secretive. We don’t know people get on, we don’t know what information is used we don’t know what proof there is or evidence as to why somebody might be a concern,” she said.
In the United States, Gilbert says after a passenger has been cleared as not being a security risk they can request a “redress number” as additional identification.
“[It allows] people who have been mistakenly caught up in these lists to move more easily through security lines,” she said.
Canada’s aviation watch lists are managed through the Passenger Protect Program, which is administered by the Public Safety and Transportation ministries.
A Public Safety Canada spokesperson said in a statement to Global News that: “Delays may occur for passengers who have the same name as a person listed under the PPP, or another security-related list such as the U.S. no-fly list.”
It added that travellers who have experienced delays in the past “may want to contact the airline’s customer service representative to explain their situation and to see what steps can be taken prior to arriving at the airport.”
According to the Public Safety Canada website, a person who has been notified they are on the PPP list, “may apply in writing to the Passenger Protect Recourse Office, within 60 days after the day on which you were denied transportation.”
However, Gilbert says that once a person has been profiled by a security agency it can have far-reaching consequences.
“It’s very, very difficult to shake the profile once it’s been attached to you,even if it’s been mistakenly attached,” she said. “My big concern for these kids will be what happens as they get older travelling on their own…I would worry about what the implications are for them having had this history.”
In the wake of Adam’s story, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has said he will examine the case.
“The reports of Mr. Ahmed and his son, Adam’s, experience during their recent travel to Boston is certainly cause for concern and I will be reviewing the specifics of their case with officials in the coming days,” read a statement issued to Global News.
Khadija Cajee said around 10 people (including Vawda-Ali) have contacted her because their children are in similar situations and will send all the information to Jane Philpott, MP for Markham-Stouffville, who has requested more information to send to Minister Goodale.
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*With files from Rebecca Joseph and Jamie Sturgeon
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