No-fly list a hot topic at national security event in Ontario

Cabinet ministers John McCallum, and Jane Philpott listened to citizens' comments and recommendations at the event in a Markham, Ont., high school cafeteria Sunday.
Cabinet ministers John McCallum, and Jane Philpott listened to citizens' comments and recommendations at the event in a Markham, Ont., high school cafeteria Sunday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

MARKHAM, Ont. – Natalie Pierre says her 16-year-old son Michael has been on a no-fly list since he was just four or five years old.

“We were coming back from the U.S. and customs agents pulled us aside,” the Burlington, Ont., mother said Sunday at a public consultation on national security hosted by three federal cabinet ministers.

“They didn’t tell us anything, except for the person who took us into a back room, who asked us what we did wrong,” Pierre said following the event in Markham, Ont.

Canada’s no-fly list dominated the conversation as Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, Health Minister Jane Philpott and Immigration Minister John McCallum listened to citizens’ comments and recommendations in a high school cafeteria.

READ MORE: Feds have been little help for families of no-fly list kids

While the floor was open to discuss many different security issues, the no-fly list was mentioned more than any other topic.

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The issue came to public attention after a six-year-old boy, Adam Ahmed, was flagged as being on the no-fly list last year.

Goodale told the meeting that there aren’t any actual children on the no-fly list, but some kids are flagged because they have the same name as adults on the list.

Pierre told The Canadian Press that’s what happened in her son’s case.

Eventually, in about 2011, she found out that Michael shared a name with someone on the list, she said.

READ MORE: New office ‘a relief’ for parents with children on Canada’s no-fly list

Since then, she said her family has been in conversation with different government agencies, trying to figure out solutions.

There will be a new system, Goodale said Sunday, and suggested his “abstract estimate” is that it would take 18 months to set up.

Several parents of kids flagged by the no-fly list told Goodale that 18 months is too long for their children to wait.

Unlike the stand-alone U.S. system, Canada’s no-fly list database was designed to piggyback on airline computers, meaning it’s more difficult to clear up misunderstandings.

In June, the Liberal government announced the Passenger Protect Inquiries Office to help people who are delayed during the check-in process and asked to provide identification, have to wait at the counter due to a ticketing agent placing a phone call to other officials, or are denied boarding for whatever reason.

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Khadija Cajee, a spokeswoman for the group known as the No Fly List Kids, has said families with young children who have explained their cases to the office continue to experience airport hassles.

But Pierre said she’d be happy to see a solution within 18 months, especially one that would help adults who are wrongly flagged, as well as kids.

But in the meantime, she said her family has found alternatives.

She said her son got a redress number from the United States, which, while not of any official value in Canada, has helped convince ticketing agents that he isn’t a threat.

They also call the airline ahead of time, which she said often helps.

“But it’s just such an inefficient system,” she said.