What if the Edmonton teenager who almost boarded a plane with a pipe bomb wasn't white?

When 18-year-old Skylar Murphy went through airport security last September, he accidentally had a pipe bomb with him. Nevertheless, the Edmonton resident was allowed to catch his flight to Mexico.

Murphy was arrested upon his return to Canada and eventually fined $100. But post-9/11, that’s not such a bad deal for nearly boarding an international flight with an explosive device.

“I don’t think it would be speculation to say that if this was a racialized young man, that this person would have been treated very different,” said Harsha Walia, a Vancouver-based activist who often focuses on immigration issues.

On the phone from Alberta where she was promoting her book, Undoing Border Imperialism, Walia discussed with the Straight what might have happened had Skyler Murphy’s driver’s license read something like “Mansoor Musafir”.

Right away, Musafir would have had to forget about a week on the beach in Mexico. In Walia's scenario, upon Border Services finding the bomb in his luggage, Musafir was quickly moved to a small room and kept by himself until RCMP officers arrived and began a lengthy interrogation.

That was the start of a 72-hour period for which Musafir was held without charges, which is permitted under Canadian antiterror laws. His right to remain silent was swept aside and officers repeatedly mentioned that in the past, Canada had transferred terrorist suspects to governments rougher than theirs.

Outside the airport, authorities giddy with their easy arrest had already leaked news of Musafir’s supposed plans to the media. On televisions across North America that night, Musafir’s family was probed and photographs of relatives in Lebanon were displayed with question marks next to them. The young man’s Facebook and Twitter feeds were scrutinized for anything that could be interpreted as “radical”. By day two, Ezra Levant was debating the implications of the length of Musafir’s stubbly facial hair.

Finally released after the RCMP conceded there was a lack of evidence to charge Musafir, authorities nevertheless placed his name on a no-fly list and restricted his movement for one year, which is also allowed under Canadian law.

“Regardless of what the outcome would be, this person would be labeled a terrorist and presumed to have foreign connections,” Walia said. “I think this very clearly indicates that there is a double standard in terms of how security operates.”

In September 2013, an eighteen-year-old Edmonton resident was permitted to board an international flight to Mexico despite having a pipe bomb found in his luggage.
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Zool Suleman, a Vancouver-based immigration lawyer, suggested that Murphy’s case is symptomatic of racial profiling.

“There is no doubt that race plays a large element in how enforcement authorities deal and prosecute cases,” he said. “If this gentleman had been of Middle Eastern origin or a visible minority in some manner, or perhaps even from a lower socioeconomic background, I have no doubt that he would have been subjected to much more scrutiny and perhaps much more enforcement.”

Suleman questioned how the incident highlights who is perceived as a threat and what sort of person is not.

“I don’t want to speculate, but if you’re being subjected to enforcement, you’re found with a pipe bomb in your possession, and perhaps you have a Muslim background, my sense would be that there is a very low chance you would be boarding your plane,” he added.

Walia called it a case of “white privilege”.

“People with white skin are treated incredibly differently by law enforcement and different agencies connected to government,” she said.

Comments (27) Add New Comment
Uncle Jack
What a fabricated problem solely meant to serve the writer's agenda!!
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At the same "intellectual" level with Scotty in Star Trek exclaiming "If grandma had wheels she'd be a wagon!!"
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Rolf
Unfortunately this is just how color coded teh world is.... mistakes made by a white person (and it was a mistake by this kid) is treated as just that, if he was Muslim, that mistake will come to define his life ever after (try flying ever again after that fiasco).
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Barking Mad
“...if this was a racialized young man, that this person would have been treated very different,”...

I should hope that a person (of any colour, ethnicity, religion or political leaning) attempting to board a plane with a bomb would initially be treated as a threat and need to be cleared before being allowed to continue. If security had been doing their job properly the same would have been done with this young man.

While there are cases of profiling and people are sometimes unfairly treated, Harsha Walia is not helping anyone by turning an instance of administrative bungling into a racial issue to suit her activist agenda. Implying that it is always minorities that are victimized (even if they are at times singled out more often) while white persons are never hassled is just one more instance of the "Us versus Them" rhetoric being used to divide society.
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John
Doesn't matter what color skin, it was wrong and should not have happened. He should be charged the same as anyone else would be charged. You should be able to understand why a Muslim in the same situation would raise red flags, however I can't imagine a Muslim citizen accidently leaving a pipe bomb in their bag with recent history.
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cathy
He "accidentally had a pipe bomb with him"???
How does anyone "accidentally" have a pipe bomb?
What's an 18 year old doing with a pipe bomb anyways?
Wouldn't a pipe bomb be picked up by the detectors?

This incident raises more questions than answers.


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Save Vancouver
What if the guy who urinated on the Komagata Maru memorial wasn't a junkie?

Still waiting for that article....
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bruther
The Harper security state has an answer for all this: "He never intended to use the pipe bomb on the place." So, in their minds, racial profiling actually works!
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Alan Layton
This is clearly a hate crime and the airport security guard(s) should be imprisoned and talked about harshly on social media. This is assuming the guards are white of course, which is probably the case.
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Father (in-law?) a sheriff?
I think I also read that the father-in-law was a sheriff?

I imagine that might have helped him too.
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Bull Harbour
Stupidity knows no colour, race, religion or creed. Looks like there was plenty to go around in this incident.
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ACMESalesRep
Barking Mad:

“I should hope that a person (of any colour, ethnicity, religion or political leaning) attempting to board a plane with a bomb would initially be treated as a threat and need to be cleared before being allowed to continue. If security had been doing their job properly the same would have been done with this young man.”

But that obviously wasn't the case. Did his being white have something to do with that? Probably. I can't imagine anyone with brown skin or a foreign-sounding name to have been given the same apparent benefit of the doubt.
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Nick Kelly
You guys you're missing the juicy fun point- security tried to give him the bomb back after he dumped it in a designated container for stuff that shouldn't fly! He had to decline their kind offer to board with the bomb. "Sir! sir- you forgot your bomb"
As to what an eighteen year old male is innocently doing with a pipe bomb- if you are female you wouldn't understand.
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AC
If he wasn't white, not sure if the security guard would've offered the pipe bomb back, as Skylar went on his way to board his flight.
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Just sad
This article is ridiculous. Make up an imaginary ethnic person and 'suppose' what would happen to them in the same circumstances?!? Is this supposed to pass for journalism? What a joke. Race baiting at its finest.

@Alan Layton: You are the one who should be shamed on social media for your idiotic, facile comment. You don't know the facts but assume to fit whatever your agenda is. For shame.

Airport security 'likely white'?!? Have you even seen a CATSA screening officer in your life? Obviously not, because if you had, you would know they are 'likely not white'. The last time I went through YEG two people who were running the belt were Filipino, the gentleman at the detector was Chinese or Korean, and the man who used the wand on me was Punjabi (judging solely by his beard and Turban - Sikh). There were maybe three white people out of two dozen there.

I doubt this is atypical. I worked many years at YVR and CATSA is largely visible minorities there too. I always figured it was because they possessed extra language skills that white Canadians often don't have... And I don't have an issue with that unlike some who make everything about race.
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Bob Rat
White people get charged with crimes every day. So why not this time? The most obvious explanation for this weird call by security is the fact his mom's boyfriend is a sheriff. Cops pretty routinely give eachother free passes for all sort of things.
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Barney Miller
I can't imagine anyone taking a pipe bomb to an airport. Most 18 year olds I know are quite intelligent. This boy obviously isn't. It's possible that he was functioning at such a low level that the judge felt he couldn't be held responsible for what he did and gave him a break. We just don't know the story here.

No one I know can understand it. The public deserve an explanation that includes information on how such an incredible error in judgement could happen and what's being done to make sure this doesn't happen again.
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Alan Layton
Just Sad - I was being cynical. It was mainly in jest and I'm just having fun with the new GS agenda of concentrating on racism - which is probably the least important issue in Vancouver, but guaranteed to stimulate revenue.
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Martin Dunphy
Layton:

You can certainly have all the fun you want, but don't try to spread the fiction that the Straight has a "new agenda" about racism.
We will expose it whenever and wherever it crops up, no apologies. We always have.
It may be surprising to you, but we have no control over when or where news breaks.
And we certainly don't write about it for the amusement of cynical people with too much time on their hands.
And we have never written about it to "stimulate revenue".
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Marianne
How does anyone 'accidentally' have a pipe bomb with them? Has that part been explained yet?
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Boon
If anyone thinks this is a "fabricated problem," consider yourself privileged.
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