How this Western student helped get budget money to fix Canada's no-fly list

A Western student who's been on the no-fly list for most of his life is hopeful that federal money to fix the no-fly list will end airport delays for innocent travellers.

Yusuf Ahmed has been on the list most of his life and pushed Ottawa for change

Yusuf Ahmed, a third-year medical sciences student at Western University, has faced delays at airport check-in gates since he was a toddler. He's happy to see the federal government earmarked $81-million in its budget to fix the no-fly list. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

Yusuf Ahmed's problems at airport check-in counters began when he was about five years old. 

On their way to boarding a plane, Yusuf, his parents and two younger brothers would often be pulled aside and questioned while impatient travellers threw them suspicious looks.

"We'd be flagged and it seemed like we'd have to wait at counters for hours," said Ahmed, who was born in Canada to a father from Saskatchewan and a mother born in Pakistan. "It's something I've grown up with and I've had to deal with for a long time."

In one incident, an airport employee asked if he could state where his library was located. At the time, Ahmed was in a stroller. 

Now a 20-year-old medical services student at Western University, Ahmed has spent the last two years joining a push for the Canadian government to fix problems that have made its no-fly list notorious for falsely flagging innocent travellers as security risks. 

In its Feb. 27 budget, the federal government acknowledged there was a problem and earmarked $81-million to establish a new passenger screening program. Another $14-million will be spent to set up a redress system to help affectec travellers. 

The change came in response to the lobbying efforts of a group called No Fly Kids. The group was formed by parents frustrated by repeated airport delays. 

In 2015, Sulemann Ahmed of Markham (no relation to Yusuf) tweeted a photo asking "Why is our (Canadian born) 6 year old on [the] no fly list?"

After that, other families came forward, sharing their stories about infants and toddlers on the list.

Ahmed said one issue is that names appear to be the only identifiers used, making it difficult for airport security to distinguish real threats from the false positives with identical names. 

"It's not only an inconvenience for those who travel," said Ahmed. "It's also a breach of security because what if you're not stopping the people that need to be stopped?"

Last fall, Yusuf Ahmed and other members of the No Fly Kids group went to Parliament Hill to press the issue. They held a news conference and met with the prime minister. Rayyan Kamal, another a third-year Western student whose family has been affected, joined the lobbying effort. 

Now that money is coming to fix the problem, Ahmed is hopeful the airport delays will be a thing of the past. 

He understands, however, the changes will take time.

"[A fix is] still a couple of years away," he said. "These things don't happen overnight. We're just going to keep pushing. We've passed the biggest hurdle and that's getting it into the budget."

Click hear to listen to Yusuf's interview on London Morning

About the Author

Andrew Lupton is a B.C.-born journalist, father of two and a north London resident with a passion for politics, photography and baseball.