The federal government has approved a redress system to protect Canadian travellers, including children who can't board airline flights due to aviation security lists.
Unlike the U.S. stand-alone system, Canada's no-fly-list database was designed to piggyback on to airline computers, making it more problematic to deal with misunderstandings about passenger identity.
Canada is now poised to set up its own independent data system that will be controlled by Public Safety, Transport Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency, The Globe and Mail has learned.
The redress system will allow Canadians whose names closely match those on the no-fly list to apply for a unique identification number. They will be able to use the number at the time of ticket purchase to clear their name in advance and prevent flight delays.
A government insider said Ottawa has allocated $78-million annually until 2022 and $12-million every year thereafter to manage the data-system changes, an overhaul that may take up to 18 months to implement. The money will also go to hire more Canada Border Services agents.
"The use of redress numbers to help identify passengers, combined with government-controlled screening of passenger manifests, would resolve the issue of travel delays for unlisted individuals by screening passenger data in advance of check-in," the source said. "It would also improve national security and privacy by limiting access to the list."
Over the past year, Ottawa has been stung by a spate of complaints from airline passengers, including the parents of young children who were unable to board flights because their names match those of people on the no-fly list.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale committed the government to improving the reliability of the no-fly system, which is intended to keep people with terrorist ties from getting on passenger aircraft.
Before issuing a boarding pass to any person who appears to be 18 years of age or older, federal travel regulations require an airline to first verify the identity of the person by comparing their name with the names on the Canadian no-fly list.
But Air Canada and other airlines are known to use other non-Canadian security lists in vetting passengers, which can lead to Canadian passengers getting falsely tagged as being on a no-fly list.
The government will soon introduce legislative changes to the Secure Air Travel Act and Secure Air Travel Regulations that would help identify and differentiate individuals who have similar or the same names as people on the no-fly list.
The minister promised to investigate after the father of Canadian-born Syed Adam Ahmed tweeted a photo from Toronto's Pearson International airport that showed the boy's name with a "DHP" or "deemed high profile" label and instructions on how to proceed before allowing the boy to check in. The family was trying to board an Air Canada flight Dec. 31 to Boston to see the NHL Winter Classic.
The government recently set up a new federal office to deal with false name matches on Canada's no-fly list, called the Passenger Protect Inquiries Office.
Anyone who has landed on a no-fly list now has a formal avenue of appeal, especially in cases of confusion or mismatches. The new office co-operates closely with the bilateral working group recently established by Canada and the United States to help sort out errors of identity.