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No-fly list kids meet with Morneau, get ‘a really good vibe’ ahead of budget

Sebastian Khan, 3, of London, Ontario sits patiently as his mother talks about his name being on the Canada's No Fly List during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa last November.
Sebastian Khan, 3, of London, Ontario sits patiently as his mother talks about his name being on the Canada's No Fly List during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa last November. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

A group representing dozens of young Canadians who have faced years of delay and frustration because their names resemble those on the no-fly list met with Finance Minister Bill Morneau on Tuesday, and say they’re hopeful that change is coming.

“I think it went well,” said lawyer Khalid Elgazzar, who represents the families, as he left the meeting in downtown Ottawa.

“In a nutshell, I think we feel like we’ve been heard. And we remain hopeful that the government will come through with a solution for our group.”

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The 25-minute sit-down between representatives for the “no-fly list kids” and the minister comes just one week ahead of the tabling of the Trudeau government’s third budget.

WATCH: No Fly List Kids families demand a Canadian redress system

No Fly List Kids families demand a Canadian redress system
No Fly List Kids families demand a Canadian redress system

Members of the group are also expected to be in the budget lock-up as stakeholders — the clearest signal yet that the Liberals may be set to fund a redress system that will make it easier for them to travel.

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The kids, many of whom are now bordering on adulthood, have had to contend with confusion and additional screening at airports all over the world.

The people actually on the no-fly list have been flagged for various reasons, including national security. The kids are innocent, however, caught in a bureaucratic quagmire that repeats itself each time they try to board an airplane.

READ MORE: Ottawa tells families caught up in no-fly list to be patient

The government says it will take over $70 million to set up a new database and accompanying computer systems that would give falsely matched travellers (including children) a unique number that can be presented to prove they pose no security threat. A similar system already exists in the United States.

Jeff Matthews said his son, David Matthews, was first flagged at just five years old while travelling to Florida.

“We were segregated from the rest of the flight until it was confirmed we could carry on … We don’t know anything about it other than the fact that he’s on the list.”

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It happened again in Halifax recently on a domestic flight. Matthews said that as a military family, they’re concerned about how hard it could be for them to travel if they are ever posted overseas.

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Once a traveller’s name is flagged, Elgazzar said the airline agent at the counter will generally make a call to a Canadian government agency, which investigates and decides if the passenger needs additional screening. Checking in ahead of time online is out of the question.

WATCH: How Canada’s No Fly List differs from America’s

How Canada’s No Fly List differs from America’s
How Canada’s No Fly List differs from America’s

To date, nobody has ever been prevented from boarding as a result of this sort of “false flag,” but the children and their families have been pushing for a better redress system for over two years. What’s most baffling, Elgazzar added, is that people who land on the no-fly list for legitimate reasons actually have a way to appeal and get their names removed, while no such option exists for the false-flag victims.

“These people have to continue going through the same dehumanizing, degrading and frankly delaying process every single time they travel,” Elgazzar explained.

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FROM THE ARCHIVES: Parents call for action for young children on security watch list

Asked how the meeting had gone, Matthews said he’s unaccustomed to talking with politicians, but got “a really good vibe” from Morneau on Tuesday.

“I appreciate the fact that he spent time during the budget week to see us. … It means a lot.”

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Some of the parents involved in the campaign have said they believe the whole thing, while frustrating, has been a good lesson in civic engagement for their kids.

“I hope they’re going to be able to see what happens when citizens become engaged in a democratic country like Canada,” said mother Rubi Alvi, whose three sons have all been flagged.

Canada’s aviation watch lists are managed through the Passenger Protect Program, which is administered by the Public Safety and Transportation ministries.

– With files from Mike Le Couteur and Rebecca Lindell