mahmood-shahid060707

Two years ago, Air Canada refused to let Toronto editorial cartoonist Shahid Mahmood board a flight. ((CBC))

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association says it wants Ottawa to investigate why airlines in Canada are using U.S. security watch lists to screenpassengers.

The civil rights group says it's disturbed by an incident last week in which Ottawa software engineer Maher Arar was singled out for additional screening on a flight between Montreal and Edmonton. The United States labelled Arar a terrorist four years ago and deported himto Syria, where he spent a year in prison.

Transport Canada has not yet developed its own no-fly list of potential security risks, leaving commercial airlines to do their own screening usingvariousdata. Officials at the agency say once they have a list, they plan to incorporate an appeals process to allow passengersblacklisted by mistake to have their names removed.

Arar is just one of the most recent air travellers tobe held up while flying within Canada because their names appear on U.S. watch lists. Two years ago, Air Canada refused to let Toronto editorial cartoonist Shahid Mahmood board a flight between Vancouver and Victoria.

Branded as 'designated high profile'

Mahmood says the ticket agent told him he had been "designated high profile." He thinks the incident had something to do with his political cartoons that poke fun at U.S. foreign policy.

Air Canada won't say whether it uses lists produced by U.S. authorities to screen passengers flying in Canada. Transport Canada says no airline should be using them.

But the airline lobby group, the Air Transport Association of Canada, say the practice continues, and its acting president, Mike Skrobica, says the lists are seen as a tool to make Canadian flights safer.

"The vast majority of our passengers, I believe, will support advanced aviation security," he told CBC News.

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association says there is no proof the lists generated by U.S. law enforcement agencies prevent anyone who's a real security risk from getting on a plane.

The group's president, Jason Gratl, says some innocent travellers are being harassed because their names are similar to those on U.S. lists.

"The U.S. no-fly list is simply unreasonable," he said, adding thathe believes it infringes"on our right as Canadian citizens to travel freely in our own country."