Tens of thousands of Canadians born in the 14 countries on a new anti-terror watch list could now be subjected to full-body scans and invasive security pat-downs when they travel to the United States.
The U.S. government announced new security measures on Sunday requiring increased screening of individuals travelling into the country from Afghanistan, Algeria, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen - countries deemed to be "state sponsors of terrorism."
But the new rule will also apply to anyone travelling to U.S. destinations on a passport from those countries, meaning that Canadians with dual citizenship or landed immigrant status could be singled out for scrutiny no matter how long they have lived in their adopted homeland.
The directive has caused confusion in international airports, as countries decide how to implement such a sweeping change to security protocol, and prompted accusations of racial profiling. Under the U.S. directive, passengers from watch-list countries must be screened before boarding planes bound for American cities.
Maryse Durette, a spokesperson for Transport Canada, said the Canadian government is currently evaluating its response to the U.S. Transportation Security Administration's new security demands.
"The United States is asking countries with U.S.-bound passengers to have special screening for passengers of those 14 countries," Ms. Durette said. "Aviation security here is looking into how to implement this in Canada."
Ms. Durette said she did not know how the new requirements would affect Canadian residents.
But critics have suggested that foreign-born Canadians from watch-list countries will be unfairly targeted.
"If you have the 'wrong place of birth,' according to Americans, be prepared for secondary examinations, intrusive questioning and an overall heightened delay in travel to the States," said Richard Kurland, a Vancouver-based policy analyst and lawyer. "It's profiling at its worst."
The security changes have created widespread confusion and unease amongst those who hail from the countries in question. But so far, there have been few reports of the directive actually being implemented.
In Europe, there was no visible change in screening methods, according to news reports. Associated Press reporters found no change at airports in Syria, Libya, or Lebanon - countries on the watch list.
If the screening is introduced in Canada, thousands of travellers could be affected.
As of 2007, there were more than 30,000 Canadian landed immigrants from the 14 watch-listed nations, with 9,800 from Pakistan alone, according to a Statistics Canada report.
And there are close to one million Canadian citizens who were born in those countries, according to Jim Karygiannis, a Toronto-area Liberal MP who deals regularly with immigration issues. On Monday, he was contacted by representatives of various immigrant communities worried about the new travel regulations.
"They're not sure what the rules are," Mr. Karygiannis said. "There is a lot of concern and there's no clear guidelines that are coming out."
Nigerian-born Franklin Omoruna, who lives in Toronto, said many of his friends hold dual Canadian and Nigerian citizenship, and are unclear how this will affect their experiences at the border.
"It's the fear of the unknown," he said. "You don't have the details and sometimes you might go unprepared because you don't know everything."
Shahid Hashmi of the Canadian Pakistani Chamber of Commerce said his daughter flew to Australia via Los Angeles over the Christmas break, and was subjected to questioning by U.S. airport officials because of a Pakistani visa on her passport from a family holiday.
"It was difficult enough before," he said. "I've lived in Canada for more than 37 years, why should I have to go through a difficult time at the border? And why should my kids?"
Mr. Hashmi said he is not defending terrorism, or questioning the means used to combat it, but said that Canadians should be protected from undue scrutiny.
"I'm defending what it means to be a Canadian citizen," he said.
The security measures have also prompted outrage from the American Civil Liberties Union. The group released a statement on Monday urging the U.S. government to focus on "evidence-based, targeted and narrowly tailored investigations based on individualized suspicion, which would be both more consistent with our values and more effective than diverting resources to a system of mass suspicion.
"Overbroad policies such as racial profiling and invasive body scanning for all travellers not only violate our rights and values, they also waste valuable resources and divert attention from real threats," said the ACLU's national security policy counsel, Michael German.
Airports around the world have been on high alert since Christmas Day, when Nigerian-born Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab failed in his attempt to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253. He had passed through security screening in Nigeria and the Netherlands before boarding the Detroit-bound plane.
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration has announced new security rules that include a directive for full-body pat-downs and carry-on luggage checks for people travelling from or through the following countries:
Afghanistan Algeria Cuba Iran Iraq Lebanon Libya Nigeria Pakistan Saudi Arabia Somalia Sudan Syria Yemen
Other passengers will see additional screening measures. It is now up to an aircraft's captain whether to require passengers to put away electronic devices during the flight and to remain seated for the final hour before landing, a TSA source told The Associated Press.
The TSA also said on Sunday that all passengers on U.S.-bound international flights will be subject to random screening and airports were directed to increase "threat-based" screening of passengers acting in a suspicious manner.
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