Shahid Mahmood, shown here in 2006, says he is still unclear as to why Air Canada barred him from boarding a flight to Victoria in 2004. ((CBC))

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal will begin an inquiry into a complaint lodged by a Toronto man who says he was unfairly prevented by Air Canada from boarding a flight 5½ years ago.

Shahid Mahmood, an architect and political cartoonist, was not allowed to enter a Victoria-bound flight from Vancouver in May 2004. However, Air Canada gave his Chilean-born wife clearance to board the same flight, he said.

Mahmood said the ticket agent told him he had been "designated high profile."

Mahmood, who is of Muslim-Pakistani heritage but was born in Canada, alleges Air Canada engaged in racial profiling, a charge the airline carrier has repeatedly denied.

After the incident, he complained to the RCMP, Transport Canada and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, who all said they had no involvement. When Mahmood found that none of those bodies had explored the matter to his satisfaction, he complained to the Canadian Human Rights Commission in November 2007.

After an investigation, the commission decided last week the matter should be escalated to the human rights tribunal. The inquiry is expected to begin in the new year.

The rights commission found that Air Canada had given contradictory explanations as to why Mahmood was barred from boarding the flight.

Over the past five years, Air Canada has said he wasn't allowed to get on the flight because he was late. The company also said he didn't have proper identification, even though he had a valid driver's licence.

'Long time coming'

"It's been a long time coming — you know, there've been two prime ministers and two American presidents and I still don't have an answer as to why this has happened," Mahmood told CBC News.

Air Canada will have to provide a public explanation as to why Mahmood was flagged, said Nicole Chrolavicius, Mahmood's lawyer.

At the time, Canada did not have a no fly list — a notice of passengers who've been flagged as potential security risks. The federal government introduced the list in June 2007.

"It's still unclear as to why his name was flagged — whether it's his name, is it him, is it a name match? Is it a national security list? What exactly is at work here?" Chrolavicius said.

"There's an issue of transparency here that need to be made public. If someone goes through this you really need a recourse."

Along with an explanation, Chrolavicius wants the tribunal to make sure Air Canada's security procedures and staff don't violate human rights legislation.