Families affected by no-fly list worried new legislation won't pass before next election

Two years after the federal government promised a system to fix the no-fly list that had seen toddlers and other Canadians mistakenly flagged as aviation security risks, families affected say they're worried changes won't be put in place until after the next federal election.

'We should have the freedom to fly and travel like everyone else'

'Our primary concern right now is if these bills don't get passed, the bill will probably die and we'll be back at square one,' said Sarah Willson, whose 3-year-old son has a name that matches one on the no-fly list. (Sarah Willson)

Two years after the federal government promised a system to fix the no-fly list, which has seen toddlers and other Canadians mistakenly flagged as aviation security risks, affected families say they're worried changes won't be put in place until after the next federal election.

The current program is designed to prevent individuals who may be a terrorist or security threat — or who may be travelling for the purpose of taking part in terrorist activities — from boarding aircraft.

But many people, including young children, have been mistakenly flagged as risks due to name matches, causing distress and delays for many families.

Sarah Willson's three-year-old son Amin Karim has been held up at the airport several times because him name matches one on the no-fly list. Her family now arrives at the airport hours before any scheduled flight.

"Right now he's cute and people look at him at airports and say, 'He's flagged?' It's clearly a mistake. But if he was older, people might think he's a threat" she said.

"It makes me angry and it's frustrating there's nothing we can do about this. He's still young and he doesn't understand, but the older he gets, he's going to understand and feel stigmatized for this."

'Back to square one'

Members of No-Fly List Kids, a group of about 200 families that has been lobbying the federal government for changes, will be meeting with public safety officials Friday.

Willson said they'll be discussing progress on a redress system, which would add a second level of security clearance sorting the no-fly list by date, so that children won't be held up at security.

But she said families were told that while those officials were tasked with designing the redress system, they don't have the legislative powers to implement those changes, because the bill remains in front of the senate.

'It makes me angry and it's frustrating there's nothing we can do about this. He's still young he doesn't understand, but the older he gets, he's going to understand and feel stigmatized for this,' said Sarah Willson. (Sarah Willson)

"Our primary concern right now is if these bills don't get passed, especially with the upcoming federal election, the bill will probably die and we'll be back to square one," she said.

"It's been so ridiculous because the U.S. has a redress system. It seems like it should be a simple fix. There's a lot of bureaucracy. It seems like it shouldn't take so long."

'It has meaning to us'

Willson said travelling with her son has become so frustrating, she'd rather drive long distances than fly.

"We should have the freedom to fly and travel like everyone else," she said.

Willson said she'd never consider changing her son's name, which was chosen to honour her husband's late father.

"It has meaning to us."

Under the changes proposed by the Liberal government, security screening would become a centralized, automated process and reduce the need for manual intervention to resolve false positive matches.

Passenger data would be submitted to the government as early as 72 hours before departure, allowing the government to clear passengers before check-in and arrival at the airport.

Canada's no-fly list has been estimated to contain the names of as many as 2,000 people considered a threat, though government officials have not confirmed a number.

With files from Megan Batchelor

About the Author

Michelle Ghoussoub

@MichelleGhsoub

Michelle Ghoussoub is a journalist with CBC Vancouver. She previously reported in Lebanon and Chile.