Parents whose children’s names match ones on Canada’s no-fly list have taken their fight for a redress system to Ottawa, saying their “patience is wearing thin” with the Canadian government.
The children and their parents were on Parliament Hill on Monday, calling on Canada to establish an independent, digital redress system to deal with the undue delays and problems they face at airports because they are falsely flagged as being on the list.
“Our patience is wearing thin now. We have been very, very patient … We can’t wait forever,” said Karen Ahmed, whose 19-year-old son, Adam, has faced delays and trouble checking in for flights for years.
The families also delivered a petition signed by prominent Canadians and said they have the support of nearly 180 parliamentarians across party lines, or more than half of all MPs in the House of Commons.
Canada’s no-fly list system is known officially as the Passenger Protect Program.
It gives the Minister of Public Safety the power to flag a person if he or she is believed to be involved in anything that threatens transportation security or is attempting to travel abroad to commit “terrorism offences”.
While Ahmed’s son is technically not on the list, someone with the same name is.
“Because he shares the same name, he gets flagged every single time he flies,” Ahmed told Al Jazeera in a telephone interview over the weekend.
“It’s almost as bad as being on the list, but we have no course to rectify it,” she added.
In 2014, the family nearly missed a flight home from India after Adam was flagged and couldn’t check in with his family members at the airport, Ahmed said.
She said her biggest fear is that her son, who turns 20 in March, wants to travel on his own and she will not be able to protect him.
“He’s going to go on school trips or with his friends … and what happens if he gets detained somewhere and I have no control over trying to get him back?” Ahmed said.
“It’s quite a scary situation.”
Canada pledges to set up redress system
Last June, Ottawa established an inquiries office to assist travellers who have experienced travel delays because their names match ones on the list.
At the time, the government said travellers could apply for a unique identification number, which could be used when booking tickets and at the airport to avoid delays. It said the system would take up to 18 months to fully implement.
The false positives have led people to miss flights, experience delays at airports and have their passports confiscated. Many also can’t check-in online or at airport kiosks and are forced to undergo additional security checks.
The families say as many as thousands of Canadians are being falsely flagged, including dozens of children, some of whom are only a few weeks old.
Scott Bardsley, a spokesperson for Canada’s Minister of Public Safety, told Al Jazeera that, “work on long-term improvements to the system continues”.
As it stands, the system matches a person’s name alone and doesn’t take into account other factors, like date of birth, Bardsley said in an email.
By the end of June, the government said the inquiries office had resolved 168 of 194 total inquiries. Sixteen of the resolved cases involved children.
Bardsley said the federal government’s new national security legislation, Bill C-59, “takes an important step towards a redress system by authorising the government – instead of airlines – to electronically screen air passenger information” against the no-fly list.
#NoFlyListKids campaign grows
Sulemaan Ahmed’s eight-year-old son, who is also named Adam Ahmed, has faced delays at airports since he was an infant.
Sulemaan said Ottawa needs to set up a formal redress system to give Adam and other innocent Canadians a recourse as quickly as possible.
“Adam, along with hundreds of other children, are on this no-fly list. The government promised to resolve this. They have not,” Sulemaan, who lives in Markham, just outside of Toronto, told Al Jazeera by telephone.
Ahmed’s son’s case drew international attention after the youngster was stopped at the airport in late 2015 on his way to a hockey game in the United States.
With others, the family has since spearheaded a movement to get Canadian children removed from the no-fly list, using the name “No Fly List Kids”.
— No Fly List Kids (@NoFlyListKids) November 6, 2017
“This is not a simple inconvenience. We’ve seen this range from travel document seizure and temporary containment in foreign countries, contrary to our mobility rights under the [Canadian] Charter [of Rights and Freedoms] as Canadian citizens,” Ahmed said.
‘Only a first step’
The establishment of an independent redress system has received broad support from MPs from various Canadian political parties, including dozens of members of the governing Liberal Party.
Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen is among them.
Hussen recently urged Finance Minister Bill Morneau to include funding for a no-fly list redress system in Canada’s upcoming 2018 budget, according to a report in the Globe and Mail newspaper.
The Globe said that the Ministry of Public Safety requested a $61m (USD) annual budget to create a computer system to deal with the false positives on the list, but the idea was rejected by the finance ministry last year.
Karen Ahmed said she would like Ottawa to be more transparent and tell the families where that price tag comes from.
In addition to the redress system, Sulemaan Ahmed said he wants Canada to make sure the personal information of people who are falsely flagged is removed from international databases and that foreign security agencies don’t have access to it.
“The redress system is only a first step. The second is to clean up the bad data – and so far, there has been zero plans from the federal government to do this,” Sulemaan said.
“The question becomes: Does Ottawa believe it’s appropriate to continue to risk national security, business growth and economic development, and to continue to violate the Charter rights of innocent Canadians?”