Canada’s human-rights laws trump American anti-terrorism efforts in Canada, the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal says in a decision released Tuesday.
The tribunal awarded a Canadian man $319,000 in damages, ruling his human rights were violated when Bombardier Inc. barred him from flight training at a Montreal facility because U.S. authorities had designated him a security threat.
The decision amounts to a repudiation of the process that U.S. authorities use to label people security threats. The Quebec tribunal decided that because of the secrecy of the process, the lack of appeals and alleged racial profiling in an array of national security practices, applying U.S. threat designations in Canada must be considered a violation of Charter rights.
The rejection that sparked the complaint was actually Javed Latif’s second. He had first applied for training under his U.S. pilot’s licence, which alerted Bombardier to his designation as a security threat by American officials. According to the tribunal, the violation occurred when Mr. Latif applied for training under his Canadian pilot’s licence, and was rejected because of the American threat label.
“Those rules do not apply here in Canada, were not adopted here in Canada by Canadian law,” said Athanassia Bitzakadis, the lawyer who represented the Quebec Human Rights Commission, which brought the case before the tribunal. “So Bombardier cannot simply refer to those rules to justify a discriminatory decision to refuse to someone a service, a service that they offer to everyone here in Quebec.”
Tribunal judge Michele Rivet criticized Bombardier for taking the U.S. designation on faith and not objectively assessing whether Mr. Latif was a security threat. She also said Bombardier could have consulted Transport Canada or the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
Testifying before the tribunal, Steven Gignac, the Bombardier official who denied Mr. Latif’s request, said he considered the U.S. authorities credible when they had deemed Mr. Latif a threat. He said if he agreed to train him there would have been “serious consequences for Bombardier Inc.”
At the time of the incident in 2004, Mr. Latif had been a pilot for 25 years and had flown over U.S. airspace many times.
In 2008, U.S. authorities removed Mr. Latif’s designation as a threat to national security, and he has since trained with Bombardier in Montreal on three occasions.
According to Mr. Latif’s lawyer, Catherine McKenzie, he now works for an airline based in the Middle East, and she has not been able to reach him with word of the decision.
Much of the Quebec Human Rights Commission’s case rested on testimony from Reem Bahdi, an expert on U.S. national security practices. Prof. Bahdi, of the University of Windsor, argued that because of broadly discriminatory practices, a U.S. threat designation must be considered discriminatory if no specific reasons are given. One example she cited was the National Security Entry and Exit Regulation System, which requires citizens of specific countries, all of which happen to be Muslim, to register upon entering and exiting the U.S.
“Basically what they [the tribunal] were presented with was a whole series of policies that targeted Arabs and Muslims alongside a policy that said, and by the way, all of these policies, all of this decision making is going to take place in secret,” she said.
The amount awarded to Mr. Latif by the tribunal includes moral and material damages as well as the highest amount for punitive damages that the tribunal has ever given, $50,000.
Bombardier is reviewing the decision and considering whether to appeal.
Whatever happens, Prof. Bahdi said, this decision must have an effect on how other cross-border companies operate in Canada.
“What this decision says is that Canadian companies have to conform to Canadian standards of justice,” she said. “And we in Canada still take quite seriously the notions of due process, and individuals not being tarnished with the terrorist label and having no ability to clear their names.”
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