British Columbia

Retired B.C. woman surprised to find herself on international no-fly list

A 66-year-old former school secretary from Vancouver Island says she has had to shelve her retirement dream of travelling the world because her name has appeared on an international security watch list.

66-year-old Courtenay resident with no criminal history wants Ottawa to clear her name

Glenda and Ken Hutton of Courtenay, B.C., say they can't imagine why her name is on an international no-fly list. ((CBC))

A 66-year-old former school secretary from Vancouver Island says she has had to shelve her retirement dream of travelling the world because her name has appeared on an international security watch list. 

"I am a Canadian citizen," said Glenda Hutton of Courtenay, B.C. "I was born and raised here. My parents were born and raised here. I have no political affiliations. I am not a criminal. Why would my name be on a list? It just doesn't make any sense."

Hutton said she first learned she was on the list in October 2007, when she tried to check in at the Comox airport for an Air Canada flight to Calgary. The check-in agent cross-referenced her passport with the airline's computer records, then told her to stand aside, Hutton said.

"I tried asking her whether there was a problem, and she, quite curtly, said 'Yes. Just stand there,' " said Hutton.

"She said she had to make a phone call [to Transport Canada] to see if it was OK for me to board the airplane, and I said, 'Why wouldn't I be able to?' And she said, 'Your name matches a name on a list.' "

Hutton said her husband, Ken, a 25-year-veteran of the Canadian military, thought it was too funny to be true.

"I said to him … 'I'm on a list!' And he started laughing. I didn't think it was very funny, but he did," said Hutton.

"At that time, but not any more," added Ken Hutton.

CBC News did a wide search of news archives for items about a Glenda Hutton, perhaps involved in crime, but it turned up nothing.

Airline refunds tickets, citing 'no-fly list'

Hutton was allowed to take her flight to Calgary, but the incident worried her, because she and her husband were three weeks away from taking a dream trip to Thailand.

Ken called his travel agent, Jack Lee of Marvelous Travel, to ask whether they had anything to be concerned about.

Lee said he remembers calling the carrier, Japan Airlines, which he said confirmed Hutton did, indeed, have a problem.

"They said 'Yes, her name is on a no-fly list,' " said Lee.

"They [Japan Airlines] did say they could probably get us out of Canada," said Glenda. "But, they didn't think it was a very good idea to go to Thailand or Japan because they couldn't guarantee that I wouldn't have problems with the authorities there."

"The airline itself actually refunded the money just three days before our flight," said Ken. "They must have had good reason to do that. They don't normally refund."

Hutton began a long, frustrating quest to get her name cleared, which, so far, has met with no success.

"Thirteen months of bureaucracy," she said. "You know, I think they thought I was just going to go away."

"Pass the buck from one to another to another, and no answers," said Ken.

Hutton called her MP, Catherine Bell, who she said promised to take on her case but has since been defeated in the election. She also contacted Passport Canada, Transport Canada, the RCMP and Homeland Security in the U.S.

No help getting name cleared, says Hutton

Her local RCMP detachment issued papers, containing her fingerprints, confirming she has no criminal history, which Hutton could take with her whenever she tried to travel.

However, she said, officers told her they could not find out what list she was on or how to get her name removed.

Transport Canada responded to Hutton's queries with an unsigned e-mail that said: "We have tried to help you, as we have with many other Canadians, with your situation in the best way we can.

"We concluded that this issue was not related to any Transport Canada aviation security program."

U.S. immigration lawyer Greg Boos, right, tells Kathy Tomlinson that the so-called watch lists are like Orwellian traps. ((CBC) )

Julie Morand of Passport Canada wrote, "The delays you have experienced … are in no way related to your passport."

Hutton should expect to be stopped wherever she travels, though, Morand wrote, "In fact … you should always be questioned since a name similar to yours appears to be on an American list."

Morand confirmed Hutton's name is not on Canada's no-fly list — the Passenger Protect program — which has an estimated 2,000 names and is much smaller than similar American or international lists.

"Which list am I on? And how many lists am I on?" asked Hutton. "Am I on an international list? And who in the world do I go to for that?"

She was advised by Morand to always travel with several documents to prove her identity, but the Huttons are still too wary to take that risk.

"Let me just travel wherever I want to go without having to fear that I'm going to be hauled off to jail someplace," Hutton pleaded. "I'm too damn old to do that."

"Surely, there is some part of our government that has enough backbone to step up and say, 'You've done everything and satisfied us. We'll make sure you get off the list.' But they don't," said her husband.

Hutton said her last hope was the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (DHS TRIP). However, department representative Michelle McGriff wrote back to tell her the department would not do anything unless she had a problem travelling to the U.S.

"Because the delays were not related to flights within or bound for the United States, DHS TRIP is unable to address your concerns," McGriff wrote. "We have closed your inquiry."

Border test fails

So, this past summer, the Huttons decided to test the U.S. border by driving across it in the hopes of getting pulled over and finding someone who could fix their problem.

"I didn't sleep that night," said Hutton. "Got up and had a shower and curled my hair and the whole thing and ate a great big breakfast.

"I figured if they are going to put me in jail, I'm going to be clean, and I'm not going to be hungry for at least eight hours."

It was all for nothing, she said, because when the U.S. border guard saw Ken's military veteran license plates, he waved them right through, without even looking at their passports.

The Huttons went back home to Courtenay feeling dejected and robbed of their retirement dreams.

"[International travel] is what I worked all my life for," said Hutton. "This is why I have more travel brochures at home and all the places picked that I wanted to go, and I can't."

CBC News asked the departments of foreign affairs and public safety if they would make inquiries on Hutton's behalf with the relevant international agencies. Both departments refused to comment or assist, saying that is not part of their mandate.

Hutton is not the only Canadian to report being put on a security watch list by mistake. This September, Quebec music producer Mario Labbé, whose name erroneously ended up on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's flight passenger watch list, decided to change his last name to end the constant hassles he encountered travelling to the U.S.

The U.S. Congress held hearings, also in September, to hear complaints from the growing number of Americans who are having similar problems. One of the people who spoke was an eight-year-old boy from California.

At those hearings, DHS TRIP said it received about 3,600 new complaints each month.

'Orwellian trap' gives false security, says U.S. lawyer

"For the people who are caught up in the Orwellian trap, [the lists] create a terrible, terrible situation," said Greg Boos, an immigration lawyer in Bellingham, Wash. "They may also be giving us a false sense of security."

Boos said there are several lists within and outside the U.S. generated by numerous security-related agencies. The names get passed around, he said, creating what's called "data creep."

"A name appears on one agency's database, and it shares who is on its database with other agencies," said Boos, "It's easy to get people on. It's very, very difficult to get people off."

Boos said Hutton's situation is what's called a "false positive." Her name could be on one or more lists, he said, for several reasons. Someone could have stolen her identity, or there may be another Glenda Hutton who is a possible risk, or the name is just a simple mistake, he said.

"Sometimes, those problems can be solved if you can find a government official who is willing to take the time to actually look at the list to actually see if this is a person who should be on there by comparing birthdates," said Boos.

The Huttons hope someone higher up in the Canadian government will read their story and decide to contact the relevant international agencies on their behalf.

"We're both healthy right now, … and we can travel," said Glenda Hutton. "Who knows what's going to happen two years down the road? Maybe one of us isn't going to be able to travel, and that's what really chokes me up."

She said she already had to bow out of a planned family cruise to Alaska this past summer, fearing she could run into trouble if she got off the ship.