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Ottawa budgets $80 million to fix Canada’s troubled no-fly list

Innocent travelers, including kids, whose names match people on the actual no-fly list have welcomed plans to fix the system.

by Tamara Khandaker
Feb 28 2018, 6:44pm

The mother of an 8-year-old boy, who has been falsely flagged as being on Canada’s no-fly list since he was born, is welcoming news that the federal government has budgeted $80 million to fix the broken system.

Khadija Cajee is part of a group called No Fly List Kids, founded two years ago to advocate for children who have had trouble at airports as a result of their names matching that of someone on the list, often resulting in extra scrutiny and long, unexplained delays at airports.

The advocacy group says it “trusts the government has done its due diligence” in earmarking $80 million in Tuesday’s federal budget to “adequately address this problem.”

The funding is spread out over five years, with most of it is set to be released in the latter three years, so it’s unclear how long it’ll take for the new system start operating.

'INNOCENT CANADIANS IMPACTED'

The group says flaws in the system affect Canadians’ mobility rights, guaranteed by the Charter, and warn that information about innocent people could be shared with foreign security agencies.

There have already been cases of Canadians being detained by foreign governments and having their passports confiscated due to their names incorrectly being flagged as being on the list, according to the group.

“These shortcomings negatively impact the overall security and rights of innocent Canadians and could not be allowed to continue unfixed,” said a statement from No Fly List Kids. As of 2016, some 50 Canadian families had come forward to the group.

Up to 100,000 Canadians could be affected by the list, according to researchers from the University of Western Ontario, who arrived at the estimate by taking the names of 25 Canadians who had been reported publicly as false positives and searching them on Canada 411. They found an average of 50 hits per name.

Because it’s against security protocol to disclose to someone that they’re being stopped because their name is on the list, many impacted travelers have no idea why they’re required to go through extra checks and screenings every time they fly.

The federal government created the list, known as the Passenger Protect Program, in 2007 partly in response US security concerns about Canadian planes flying through American airspace, in the aftermath of 9/11.

There were up to 2,000 people on Canada’s no-fly list, according to numbers released by Ottawa at the time, but the federal government has refused to provide an updated number since then.

'WE WERE PLEASED'

No-Fly List Kids has been pushing for a redress process, similar what the U.S. offers, that would assign a special number to people who are false positives, allowing them to prove they’re not the person on the list.

That system would requires a new computer system to be built from the ground up, according to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale. The money in the budget will be used to develop the redress system, as well as "a rigorous centralized screening model."

"The enhanced program will help ensure that privacy and fairness concerns are addressed, while keeping Canadians safe," said the budget.

“I'm ecstatic for the @NoFlyListKids families who learned today that the government had earmarked funds for the establishment of a redress system,” said Khalid Elgazzar, a lawyer who represents No-Fly List Kids.

Cajee said her son has been falsely flagged since he was born. The family has encountered issues every time they’ve had to fly — even as recently as December when they were visiting family in Canada.

The “absolute worst experience” they had was in Mexico when their passports were confiscated, without explanation, and no one would answer their questions, she told VICE News. This happened before they knew their son’s name matched that of someone on the list.

“It was a very confusing time and very embarrassing,” Cajee said, adding that they only found out what was going on after a sympathetic check-in agent, who was surprised that Adam, 18 months old at the time, was being flagged, told them.

“We were pleased that [the government] had listened to our concerns, and we were pleased with what we saw,” she said.