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Parents of kids affected by no-fly list ask for meeting with Trudeau ahead of budget

Thousands of march break travellers wait to catch their flights at Pearson Airport in Toronto on March 7, 2014.

J.P. MOCZULSKI/The Globe and Mail

Parents of children whose names closely match those on the no-fly list are asking for a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in an attempt to secure funding for a system that they say would end the ongoing delays and scrutiny their children face at airports.

The group of parents is calling on the federal government to create a redress system to protect law-abiding Canadian airline passengers – particularly children – affected by the no-fly list. After more than two years of campaigning lawmakers in Ottawa, frustrated parents are hoping to take their concerns to Mr. Trudeau himself.

"We're advocating for full funding for a Canadian redress system in the 2018 federal budget to allow innocent people who are falsely flagged to remove themselves from the no-fly list," wrote Sulemaan Ahmed, the father of one of the affected children, in a letter to Mr. Trudeau Tuesday.

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"We believe it is only with your direct intervention as Prime Minister and Minister of Youth that this crisis can be solved."

The Prime Minister's Office said it is in contact with the group, which uses the hashtag #NoFlyListKids.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau is under pressure from more than 200 Liberal and opposition MPs to fund a redress system to stop the false positives that have made travel difficult for Canadians whose names are similar to those on the no-fly list. Mr. Morneau's office, which is currently in pre-budget consultations, declined to say whether it will fund a redress system in the upcoming spring budget.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale's office said in a statement that the government remains committed to establishing a redress system, but noted that it will take time to make the necessary regulatory and database changes.

"We understand ‎the frustration of travellers whose names are wrongly flagged by air travel security lists and want to reassure them that work on long-term improvements to the system continues," Mr. Goodale's spokesman Scott Bardsley said.

Mr. Bardsley said the next step is passing Bill C-59, the Liberal government's national-security legislation, into law. The bill will authorize the government – instead of airlines – to electronically screen air passenger information against the Secure Air Travel Act list, which is meant to prevent people with terrorist ties from getting on flights. However, the Conservatives and NDP note that the legislation does not establish a redress system.

"Children whose names are mistakenly on the no-fly list are not a priority for Justin Trudeau's Liberals. Conservatives have been asking the Prime Minister to fix the system for months, even writing a letter to Minister Goodale urging him to resolve this issue," said Conservative public safety critic Pierre Paul-Hus.

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NDP critic Matthew Dubé said that after two years in power and still no redress system, the Liberal government does not seem to be taking this problem seriously.

Currently, Canadian airlines are required to screen their flight manifests against the Secure Air Travel Act list. Travellers who have been falsely flagged say they are unable to check in online, and face travel delays and increased scrutiny by airlines and security staff.

Unlike the U.S. system, Canada's list does not include dates of birth, sex or other information to ensure that two people with the same name aren't mistaken.

A government-controlled redress system would allow Canadians whose names are similar to those on the list to apply for a unique identification number, which they could use at the time of ticket purchase to clear their name before their flight, preventing delays at the airport.

In 2016, Public Safety proposed $78-million annually to set up a U.S.-style, standalone no-fly-list database computer system, but the measure was killed by Mr. Morneau's department. Once-hopeful parents are now concerned the redress system is no longer a priority for the Liberal government.

"It's hurtful because this is your country and there's so many things in place that we can do to actually resolve this issue, especially for the young kids, and I feel like we're not willing to take that step because it's just not important enough," said Ayesha Vahidy, whose 17-year-old son Sehel Ali has been affected by the no-fly list fiasco.

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As the campaign for a redress system continues, falsely flagged children continue to face problems at airports.

Mr. Ahmed and his son Adam made national headlines in early 2016 when Adam was falsely flagged on an Air Canada flight from Toronto to Boston for the NHL Winter Classic. More than two years later, the eight-year-old boy is still flagged at airports, despite the fact that Mr. Goodale has told airlines that they don't need to subject anyone under the age of 18 to additional security-screening measures.

"My impression is that they [airlines] are either unable to or unwilling to follow this directive," said Khadija Cajee, Adam's mother.

Ms. Vahidy said her son Sehel also continues to be flagged, including during a family trip to Turkey, Egypt and Singapore last year. She says she may have no choice but to take the government to court if it doesn't create a redress system soon.

"I don't want to get into a court system," said Ms. Vahidy. "But if that's the only scenario left to our children, then, yeah, I'll do it because I don't want my son to suffer forever."

The federal government won't disclose how many people are on the country's no-fly list, but two University of Western Ontario students suggest as many as 100,000 Canadians are being falsely flagged as suspected terrorists.

UWO students Rayyan Kamal and Yusuf Ahmed took the names of 25 Canadians who have been reported publicly as false positives and, using 411.ca, counted the number of other Canadians that matched their names. With 50 hits per name, multiplied by the 2,000 people listed on the no-fly list in 2007, they estimate that 100,000 Canadians have been falsely flagged.

Parents and kids who have endured airport delays because a young person’s name matches one on a no-fly list are asking politicians to resolve the issue The Canadian Press
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