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Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, listens to a question during a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa last November. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)
Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, listens to a question during a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa last November. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

Globe editorial

The problem with no-fly lists goes beyond the unfair targeting of children Add to ...

The federal government brought a small dose of common sense to a controversial policy last week when Ralph Goodale, the Minister of Public Safety, reminded airlines that the only risk a small child poses on a flight is that he or she might cry the entire journey or kick the back of the next seat 1,000 times in a row.

Consequently, said Mr. Goodale, the airlines do not need to waste time vetting small children against Canada’s no-fly list, even if their name is the same or similar to one on the list.

This is what keeps happening to Syed Adam Ahmed of Markham, Ont., who is six years old, and to Sebastian David Khan of London, Ont., who surely presents a limited risk to national security given he is 21 months old.

Both children are routinely and rather absurdly subjected to special scrutiny at airports. Young Mr. Ahmed became a minor social media phenomenon on Dec. 31 after being delayed while travelling to see his beloved Montreal Canadiens play in Boston.

Mr. Goodale’s useful reminder to airlines is the kind of responsive government Canadians voted for when they elected the Trudeau government. He says he is now looking into changes to regulations that would make it easier to differentiate people who have similar or identical names as so-called “listed persons.”

There’s more he can do, however. The no-fly list remains a crude, secretive and slightly sinister tool in the fight against terrorism. As Minister, Mr. Goodale is responsible for the list and has the sole discretion to add and remove people from it, but he is not obliged to make his decision-making public. Listed persons only discover their fate when they receive written notice to that effect. They don’t get an opportunity to defend themselves. And once on the list, it is difficult to get off.

This Kafkaesque approach is overwrought. It is done to a large degree to satisfy the United States, which will close its airspace to any country that doesn’t make a proper show of fighting terrorism. But Canadian due process requires a more even-handed approach. The Liberal government should bring the policy in line with our values by giving listed persons a legitimate shot at recourse.

The parents of Sebastian David Khan rightly wonder what will happen to their son as he gets older. Will he enjoy the same freedoms as other Canadians? Or will he be doomed to exaggerated scrutiny because of his name? Surely he deserves to be treated more fairly than that.

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