Almost 14 years after 9/11, the United States government is finally beginning to ease the rigours of its no-fly list. Meanwhile, Canada is going in the opposite direction – making our no-fly list, known as Passenger Protect, more secretive, intense and sweeping.
Until now, in the U.S., someone who was not allowed to board an airplane was not told whether he was actually on the list. The Department of Homeland Security answered inquiries by a letter that essentially said nothing. However, under the pressure of civil-liberties lawsuits, people in the U.S. will henceforth be told at least whether or not they're on the list, and they will sometimes even get an unclassified summary of some of the reasons why – not much, but it's a start.
In Canada, the law has until now required air carriers not to board anyone on a list of people who are "immediate threats to aviation security." The list is secret, but someone who has been refused boarding at least gets a letter saying he won't be boarded in the future – if he's actually on the list. He can also ask for reconsideration later.
But, if and when Bill C-51 is passed, a bad system is about to get worse, under the comforting name of the Secure Travel Act. If the minister of public safety has "reasonable grounds to suspect" that someone will be a threat to aviation, their name will be placed on the list. What's more, somebody who travels by air with the intention to commit any of a whole other set of terrorism offences, then he or she will be on the no-fly list, too.
That's a paradox. It's one thing to want to blow up an airplane; it's quite another to travel by air in order to join the so-called Islamic State or to be a terrorist in a recognized foreign country – probably more than 130 Canadians and counting.
Still, Bill C-51 has been amended so that ministerial power to order various agencies to "do anything reasonable and necessary," to "take a specific, reasonable and necessary action."
Even the number of people on our no-fly list is a secret, though rumour has it that only about 50 have actually been refused boarding. C-51 would multiply the whole no-fly population in Canada, offences cascading upon offences. All this, when Homeland Security and Justice are becoming less arbitrary in the United States.