A Markham, Ontario father called out Air Canada on Twitter last week when he found out his child was on a no-fly list as the family tried to board a flight from Toronto to Boston to watch a New Year's Eve hockey game. Now, the airline is being tight-lipped about why.
Six-year-old Adam Ahmed and his family were trying to fly out of Toronto's Pearson International Airport when they were alerted by attendants at the boarding gate that the boy, who had been stopped on numerous occasions for the same reason, was on a list for people "deemed high profile" (DHP).
According to a 2014 human rights complaint filed against Air Canada over a similar scenario, the DHP draws on existing no fly lists and cross-references them before alerting an airline agent with a prompt to consider the passenger a higher risk.
"When a passenger's name is a close match to any name on the U.S. or Canadian No-Fly List or Selectee List, an automatic prompt will appear on the agent's screen stating that the passenger is 'Deemed High Profile' (DHP)," the airline told The National Post.
According to Ahmed's family, they have been aware of the DHP alert on their son since an Air Canada agent told them about it back when he first flew as a toddler. The family only brought it to the attention of the airline recently because it has become a concern as he has grown older.
"We try to keep him protected from all this stuff, because we don't want him to feel singled out and stigmatized," Ahmed's mother told CBC News.
"Every agent has been really sympathetic to our situation," she said. "There are always eye rolls, they're always in disbelief. A lot of times they think it's my husband so they look at him, but he always says to them, 'No, it's the little guy down there."
After last week's incident, Ahmed's father tweeted at Air Canada with a picture of what appeared on the screen of an airline agent and asked why his son was considered a flight risk. In response, Air Canada has said they will look into it with the help of Canadian Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale.
According to Veronica Kitchen, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo and counterterrorism expert, the real question is whether Ahmed was put on a Canadian or American no-fly list, noting how difficult it is to get removed from the American list as a non-citizen.
"[This] means he's on someone's list, I'm just not sure if it's the Canadian or American list," Kitchen said. "I see that Ralph Goodale has gotten involved, and if it's the Canadian list he's on, then Goodale does have the authority to have him removed. To be removed from American list, as a foreign national, they would not even tell you if you're on the list, and it would be much more difficult to be removed."
Kitchen also added that the purpose of no-fly lists are generally to prevent suspected terrorists or terrorist recruiters from traveling to other countries, and that Ahmed's name may have associated him with someone on one of those lists.
When asked by VICE whether the DHP list and the no-fly list are the same, Air Canada could not provide specific comment. The airline also declined to confirm whether Ahmed was on a Canadian or American no fly list.
The Trudeau government has promised to take another look at no-fly lists in the past, but has yet to set in place a timeline on any specific action. Goodale described Ahmed's experience as a "cause for concern" and said he will be reviewing the case.
Follow Jake Kivanc on Twitter.