A group of parents whose children’s names falsely match those on Canada’s no-fly list are urging the Senate to quickly pass legislation that would help end the delays and scrutiny their kids face at airports.
Members of the No-Fly List Kids advocacy group called on the Senate national security committee to pass Bill C-59, the Liberal government’s national security legislation, before Parliament breaks for the summer and the federal parties become occupied with this fall’s election. The bill would help create a redress system that would resolve the delays and discrimination that wrongly flagged Canadians experience at airports.
“With an impending election and looming rise of the Senate, we do hope that by being here and sharing our stories and our concerns that our respected senators will expedite passing C-59 so work can commence on a system that will improve the efficiency and security of our air travel,” said Jeff Matthews, whose seven-year-old son, David, is falsely identified by the no-fly list.
Last year, the Liberals committed $81.4-million over five years to create a redress system, which would allow Canadians whose names are similar to those on the no-fly list to apply for a unique identification number that could be used at the time of airline ticket purchase to clear their name. Bill C-59 proposes a key change that would give Ottawa the power to electronically screen airline-passenger information by transferring that function from the airlines to the government.
If Parliament does not pass the bill before it rises at the end of June, the government won’t have the legislative power it needs to create a redress system.
“We need to pass this and if, God forbid, our work gets undone as the result of an election, it would be really devastating and demoralizing to be honest, because we’ve put in so much time,” said 19-year-old Aadam Ahmed, who has been wrongly flagged by the no-fly list.
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 delays and scrutiny by airlines and security staff. It’s unclear exactly how many Canadians are affected, but advocates estimate as many as 100,000 law-abiding Canadians continue to be falsely identified.
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. Mr. Ahmed’s mother, Ruby Alvi, said the fix is easy.
“Something as simple as adding a date of birth – which is information that’s already going with you when you’re travelling on your passport – would reduce the false-positive rate,” Ms. Alvi said.
The No-Fly List Kids group also met Monday with the Prime Minister’s Office in Ottawa, where officials said they are confident the legislation will pass in the final six weeks of the parliamentary sitting.
The group sent a letter to Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer in March asking him to commit to helping Bill C-59 pass. As of Monday, the group said the Conservatives had not responded to the letter.
The no-fly list changes represent just part of the wide-ranging national security bill. The committee heard from witnesses on the other portions of the legislation Monday.
Richard Fadden, a former director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, told senators that while generally he supports the bill, he is concerned with the aspect that would create the position of an intelligence commissioner, suggesting it is a way for ministers to avoid accountability.
The Liberal government has proposed to appoint a retired judge to the position, who would work on a part-time basis and have the power to approve authorizations for the country’s national security agencies.
Mr. Fadden said he takes issue with the commissioner’s mandate to determine the “reasonableness” of the agencies’ activities, saying if a judge is appointed, he or she should consider legality not reasonableness, as the bill currently states. Mr. Fadden said if that is not possible, then a former politician or public servant should fill the position.
“Using former judges would provide ministers with too easy an out if something ever goes wrong,” Mr. Fadden said, quickly adding that he is speaking generally and not referring to any one minister.
He said if Parliament insists on keeping the “reasonableness” role for the commissioner, the government should provide a definition of the word.
Mr. Fadden also answered questions about the challenge of Canadians who have travelled abroad to fight with extremists in conflicts and who have returned, or are seeking to return, to the country. He said that Canada has a “responsibility to deal with them,” and that the country would not be helping the management of terrorism internationally by refusing their entry.
As of January, about 190 of the 250 people who left remained abroad, according to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, who said many are likely dead. The remaining 60 have returned to Canada, but only a small number of that figure travelled to Syria, Iraq or Turkey, with most travelling elsewhere.