No-fly list partnership with US sparks concerns about children stuck in net

Sulemaan Ahmed and son Adam on route to the 2016 NHL Winter Classic between the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins. Six-year-old Adam was flagged with a "DHP" or "deemed high profile" label before the flight with instructions on how to proceed before allowing the boy to check in. Courtesy

OTTAWA – The mother of an Ontario boy who has put up with many unsettling airport delays says a Canada-U.S. plan to share no-fly lists must include “adequate and transparent safeguards” to ensure children won’t become entangled in an international security web.

Khadija Cajee’s six-year-old son Adam had trouble boarding an Air Canada flight to Boston with his father Dec. 31 to see the NHL Winter Classic. A check-in counter computer showed the boy’s name with a “DHP” or “deemed high profile” label and instructions on how to proceed before allowing the youngster to check in.

Soon after, it became clear dozens of other Canadian families were experiencing the same sort of headaches due to false security-list matches.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale promised to investigate, and the issue became a key element of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to Washington in March.

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READ MORE: Markham, Ont., boy, 6, still running afoul of Canada’s no-fly list, mother says

Canada and the U.S. agreed to set up a joint Redress Working Group within 60 days to help resolve errors of identity on no-fly lists. In addition, the two countries said they would routinely share their respective no-fly rosters as part of a joint effort to identify threats, something Goodale’s office called “the first agreement of its kind” on such lists.

An update on the plan could come within days.

The controversial anti-terrorism bill known as C-51 broadened the scope of Canada’s no-fly program, known as Passenger Protect, to include travel by air for terrorism purposes, no longer just immediate threats to aviation security. It also established the legal authority for Canada to share its no-fly list with foreign governments.

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WATCH: Dozens of children placed on Canada’s no-fly list

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Dozens of children placed on Canada’s no-fly list

In an April 20 letter to Cajee, Transport Minister Marc Garneau – who helps Goodale administer the no-fly program – says the plan to exchange lists is “built on a strong and historic partnership between Canada and the United States and reflects the evolving and trans-boundary nature of the threat to our two countries.”

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“This agreement will be critical in improving information sharing in support of national security, so that a threat to one country does not become a threat to the other,” says the letter, which Cajee provided to The Canadian Press.

Garneau adds that ensuring the rights and liberties of Canadians are protected “is one of my key priorities,” and advice given by the federal privacy commissioner’s office has been crucial in development of the agreement.

Cajee, of Markham, Ont., is frustrated that her son and other children she has come to represent – known as the No Fly List Kids – have continued to experience airport delays while clerks do identity checks, even though the youngsters are obviously not security threats.

Goodale has reminded airlines that they don’t need to vet children against Canada’s no-fly list. The government is also exploring possible regulatory changes that would help identify those who have similar or the same names as people on the no-fly list.

Cajee said the families look forward to “a more efficient and just system which hopefully includes access to redress for innocent children.” But the international dimension poses more worries.

“If this new system involves data sharing between countries, we want to ensure that there are adequate and transparent safeguards in place to guarantee that bad data will not result in our children being ensnared in an international system, part of which currently offers no recourse for redress,” Cajee added.

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READ MORE: U.S. no-fly list may have tripped up Canadian youngsters: Goodale

“The bottom line is, as a mother, I want my son to be guaranteed the rights and freedoms granted to any other innocent Canadian child. No more, no less.”

It may be that the federal government feels it must share with the U.S. to some degree if the planned Redress Working Group is going to make any headway in dealing with false matches, said Wesley Wark, a historian and intelligence expert who teaches at the University of Ottawa. “It would be hard to imagine the Redress Group working in any other fashion.”

Canada should aim to ensure the Passenger Protect list remains a product of Canadian intelligence assessments and judgment, Wark said. But he added that Canada has an interest in sharing information with the U.S. to address the problem of false positives as well as keep track of extremists leaving North America to fight in foreign conflicts.

Following the March announcement, the office of federal privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien met with Public Safety and provided recommendations on the text of the information-sharing agreement, said Tobi Cohen, a spokesman for Therrien.

“We understand that the text was being revised. Public Safety has committed to continuing to consult with our office and has expressed an openness to addressing the issues we’ve raised,” she said. “We aren’t in a position to offer details because the negotiations between Canada and the U.S. are ongoing.”


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