The federal government won’t disclose how many people are on the country’s no-fly list, but research by two University of Western Ontario students suggests as many as 100,000 Canadians are being falsely flagged as suspected terrorists.
Finance Minister Bill Morneau is facing pressure from Liberal and opposition MPs to fund the establishment of an independent no-fly-list computer system to stop the false positives that have made travel difficult for law-abiding Canadian airline passengers and their children.
In 2007, Ottawa said the no-fly list contained up to 2,000 people listed as “an immediate threat to civil aviation” under the Passenger Protect Program but, for security reasons, it has since refused to share the number even though the Office of the Information Commissioner has gone to court to seek this information.
University of Western Ontario medical-science students Rayyan Kamal and Yusuf Ahmed estimate that as many as 100,000 Canadians are being matched with the names of people listed as an immediate security threat.
The third-year students took the names of 25 Canadians who have been reported publicly as false positives and, using 411.ca, they counted the number of other Canadians that matched their names.
“We came up with about 50 hits per name and, if we take the 50 hits per name and times the 2,000 listed persons in 2007, we estimate there are 100,000 Canadians who have been false-flagged,” Mr. Kamal said in an interview.
Scott Bardsley, a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, would not say if the 100,000 figure is accurate nor would he provide an accurate list of Canadians on the no-fly list.
Zamir Khan, who is part of a no-fly list group that wants Ottawa to fund a new computer system to fix the problem, said his six-year-old son has routinely been wrongly flagged. He believes the 100,000 estimate.
“On the surface of it, the number blows me away, but when you look at what is behind the numbers, it is actually a conservative estimate,” Mr. Khan said. “It is based on an estimate of 2,000 people on the list back in 2007 and I suspect the list has probably doubled to 4,000.”
Last year, the Public Safety department proposed $78-million annually to set up a U.S.-style, standalone no-fly-list database computer system, but the measure was killed by Mr. Morneau’s department.
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.
A properly funded redress system would allow passengers whose names closely match those on the no-fly list to apply for a unique identification number.
Travellers who have been falsely flagged say it results in travel delays, inability to check in online and increased scrutiny by airlines and security staff.
Parents with children whose names closely match those on Canada’s no-fly list will testify on Tuesday before the Commons public-safety and national-security committee.
The parents, who use the hashtag #NoFlyListKids, have letters of support from 201 MPs urging Mr. Morneau to fund a no-fly-list database system. The Finance Minister’s office has declined to comment on whether there would be funding in the 2018 budget.
The redress campaign has endorsements of 17 cabinet ministers and 128 Liberal MPs, as well as the backing of the Conservative, New Democratic and Green parties.
Public Safety says Ottawa is committed to improving the reliability of the no-fly system, but acknowledged it will take time to develop a database system.
In the meantime, the government suggests that frustrated travellers whose names are wrongly flagged should join an airline loyalty program such as Air Canada’s Aeroplan.
“This associates her or his name with additional identifiers within the airlines’ systems which helps distinguish them from listed individuals with similar names,” Public Safety says.
The department says travellers who are mistakenly flagged can go to the check-in counter and the issue is usually resolved after a 10- to 15-minute delay.
But Amber Cammish disputes the 15-minute delay estimate, saying her four-year-old daughter, Alia Mohamed, was delayed for 45 minutes until security cleared her for a flight from Vancouver to Terrace, B.C., last June.
OTTAWA BUREAU CHIEF
The Globe and Mail, December 11, 2017