There is no good reason to conceal the number of people – and in particular the number of Canadian citizens – on Canada's "no-fly list." Suzanne Legault, the Information Commissioner of Canada, is right to have initiated a lawsuit against the Minister of Transport, after the government refused to provide those numbers to Daphné Cameron, a reporter for La Presse, who had filed two access-to-information requests, simply asking for raw numbers between 2006 and 2010.
The government's non-response invites notions that the number of terrorists in Canada is terrifyingly vast, in the hundreds of thousands, or else so few as to suggest that CSIS and the RCMP have identified only a few dozen risks – or that we Canadians are quite a tame lot, in spite of Canada's disturbing contribution to the foreign-fighter phenomenon abroad.
Transport Canada is refusing to answer Ms. Cameron's and now Ms. Legault's questions, relying a long-winded section of the Access to Information Act, which essentially says the government doesn't have to provide information that would be "injurious to the conduct of international affairs" or to "the defence of Canada."
Surely, the no-fly-list population does not constitute a military secret. Nor would the numbers asked for set off any international diplomatic incidents.
It's true that the no-fly list, officially known as the Specified Persons List, is concerned with "the prevention or suppression of subversive or hostile activities," words found in the same section, but if the Canadian public were allowed to be aware of the dimensions of the problem the list is meant to deal with, surely that would not be "injurious" – the word around which the whole section is built.
The United States is more forthcoming than Canada; there are about 21,000 people on its no-fly list (it has grown much larger under the Obama administration), of whom 500 are American citizens.
In June, a U.S. federal district judge in Oregon held that the American no-fly list regime doesn't give people enough due process to challenge their having been put on the list, so that it is unconstitutional as it now stands. No doubt, there will be appeals.
In Canada, the courts haven't yet given the no-fly list any comparable scrutiny. It's overdue. In the meantime, Canadians should know the numbers.