Canada's no-fly list worries activist

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The federal government is rolling out its no-fly list on June 18.

According to a government spokesperson, Canadian air carriers aren't the only ones getting a copy of this file.

In a phone interview from Ottawa, Transport Canada's Julia Ukrintz told the Georgia Straight that the list will also be provided to foreign airliners flying into and out of the country.

"It doesn't have to be a Canadian airliner," she said.

Last month, Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon and Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day unveiled the Passenger Protect Program to address threats of terrorism.

Transport Canada briefing material stated that the no-fly list may include "an individual who is or has been involved in a terrorist group, and who, it can reasonably be suspected, will endanger the security of any aircraft or aerodrome or the safety of the public, passengers, or crew members".

It can also cover an individual who had been previously convicted of "serious and life-threatening offences".

According to civil-rights activist Itrath Syed, the compilation of the list involved a "very arbitrary process".

"I think the issue here is if people are being suspected of something, then they should be charged," Syed told the Straight. "If there is not enough evidence to charge someone, what is the evidence then to deny someone the right to mobility? If you're going to be on the list, you should be told and told why, so you would have a chance to do something about it."

Syed, who is a research associate at UBC's Centre for Women and Gender Studies, also pointed to a "convoluted process of appeal" for persons who are going to be barred from boarding commercial flights.

Based on "identity screening" regulations published in the Canada Gazette on May 16, an individual can seek a review before Transport Canada's Office of Reconsideration. The OOR, in turn, will forward the file to an "independent external advisor".

The regulations allow a person to file a complaint before either the Security Intelligence Review Committee, which reviews CSIS operations, the Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP, or the Canadian Human Rights Commission. One also has the option of going to a federal court for judicial review.

David Harris, formerly with CSIS, described the no-fly list as an "unavoidable attempt at a solution although it is fraught with complexity and difficulty as a concept".

Harris said in a phone interview with the Straight that having such a list is an "issue about the economic and efficient use of resources".

"That's an interesting one to the extent that one might be able, through a no-fly list, to make a more efficient use of defensive resources," he said. "Those resources could then be focused on other threats and so other issues might be resolved that might not even be directly attributable to the aviation front."

Harris noted that it is difficult to gauge the effectiveness of such a list but pointed out that "knowledge about the existence of the list could act as a deterrent against certain offensives that might otherwise involve aircraft".

"It gets back in some ways to that old chestnut about one never being quite sure about the rate of success of security and intelligence organizations because their successes are to some extent going to be covered by a cloak of silence," Harris said.

Vancouver lawyer Zool Suleman expressed concern that certain individuals could be included in the list based on either their ethnic or religious affiliations.

"When you are now starting to compile a no-fly list, there is a serious possibility of a mistake getting compounded over and over again," Suleman told the Straight. "Somebody gets profiled for the wrong reasons, of which race is one of the criteria. Then this no-fly list could be shared with other countries. All of a sudden, someone could be in trouble for no other reason other than they are from the wrong community group or perhaps they had coffee with the wrong person or they know somebody who might be involved in security-sensitive matters."

Micheal Vonn, policy director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, recalled that her group had written Transport Canada to inquire if the release of a Canadian no-fly list would now mean that Canadian air carriers would stop using a U.S.-compiled list. She told the Straight that local airliners have been relying on an American file for flights within Canada and those going to the U.S.

"We got a letter back from them saying, essentially, 'There's nothing we can do,'" Vonn said. "We will now have the worst of both worlds."