Canada to launch no-fly list in June

May 12, 2007 04:30 AM

OTTAWA–A Canadian "no-fly" list of people to be barred from boarding domestic and international airline flights is set to take effect June 18, just as the busy summer flying season gets underway.

The move, nearly six years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, amounts to a flight blacklist of people "reasonably suspected" by federal officials as immediate threats to the safety of commercial aircraft, passengers or crew.

Under the rules, as passengers check in for flights, whether at kiosks or counters, their names will be automatically screened against the government's list, known as the "Passenger Protect" program.

The no-fly list will be drawn up by Transport Canada, with input from the RCMP and CSIS.

If a name is red-flagged as a possible match with a name on the no-fly list, the traveller will be directed to a flight agent, who will contact Transport Canada for a decision on whether to allow boarding. Airlines are responsible for protecting the passenger's confidentiality.

People denied access to a flight will be able to challenge their inclusion on the list, but in the short haul, they will be grounded. And the airport or local police will be notified.

Critics say the plan will not make air travel safer, and will likely lead to the kinds of "false positive" identification of people that has plagued a similar list in the United States. The most celebrated example involved Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, who was barred from boarding a flight when he was wrongly identified as being on the list. Infants have also been banned.

'Any review is useless if you don't have enough information to contest it'
Joe Comartin, NDP MP

The federal government says it will provide a "non-judicial and efficient" mechanism for individuals to appeal their listing through a Transport Canada "Office of Reconsideration."

That office "may" submit the file for review by an independent external adviser, who was not part of the initial identification of the name for the list. The adviser would be expected to make a recommendation to the minister on whether the person stays on the list within 30 working days.

And if the person still contests the decision, they "have the option of pursuing other legal avenues ... such as the Federal Court," say the documents. That presumably means first seeking the court's leave to apply for judicial review.

Details will be outlined in government regulations to be published next week, but Conservative Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon and Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day unveiled parts of the package via news release yesterday.

The new rules will apply to all passengers "who appear to be 12 years of age or older." The government says that is consistent with the definition of a child under Canadian law (Criminal Code and the Youth Criminal Justice Act).

Overseas travel already requires a passport. For domestic travel, passengers will require one piece of valid government-issued photo ID that shows name, date of birth and gender, such as a driver's licence or a passport; or two pieces of valid government-issued non-photo ID, at least one of which shows name, date of birth and gender, such as a birth certificate.

Lawyer Lorne Waldman, who represented Maher Arar, added that until now, the Canadian government has appeared to have an informal list that forced people like Arar through extra security until he was exonerated of all suspicion by Justice Dennis O'Connor.

"Maher, every time he flew and until the (O'Connor) report was released always had to go through extra security screening. Clearly there was some kind of list being used. We believe it was likely just Canadian airlines using the U.S. list."

Arar, an Ottawa engineer, was detained in 2002 during a stopover at New York's JFK airport and sent to Syria where he was held without charges.

Waldman questioned whether any process for challenging the listing of an individual's name could work, given that intelligence information would be kept secret on the basis of national security.

The information for each listed person is to be reviewed at least once every 30 days, the government says.

"The consequences to people in our society today – especially where being able to move from point A to point B is often essential for people to earn their livelihood – can be quite serious," said Waldman.

New Democrat MP Joe Comartin (Windsor-Tecumseh) said it was clear from past committee testimony by government officials that there is no intent to allow the government's information to be viewed by the individual targeted "or give you any reasonable mechanism to get off the list."

"My first question is who are the independent people going to be and are they going to have access to the information – or are they simply going to have an intelligence officer come forward and say `We have information this person is a threat and it's national security information so that's all we're going to tell you.' That's exactly what I would expect would happen.

"Any review is useless if you don't have enough information to contest it."

Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart has already expressed concerns about the government's plan, warning in August 2005 that it could be a "serious intrusion into the rights of travellers in Canada, the rights of privacy and the rights of freedom of movement."

She was unavailable for comment yesterday, but her spokesperson Florence Nguyen said "our views are still the same."