No-fly list headache may soon be over for this Canadian boy and others in the same boat

Sebastian Khan, 4, has been delayed at the border since he was an infant because his name matches the name of someone on a national security list. But that headache may soon be over when members of No-Fly List Kids meet with public safety officials Wednesday to learn what the federal government plans to do.

Public Safety officials will meet Wednesday with members of No-Fly List Kids

Sebastian Khan, 4, has been stopped at the border since he was an infant because his name matches a name on a security list, his father Zamir Khan says. (Submitted by Zamir Khan)

Zamir Khan's four-and-a-half-year-old son Sebastian has been held up at the border since he was six weeks old. When Sebastian was 18 months old an airline agent told the father it was because his toddler's name matched someone on a national security list.

"We couldn't really believe what we were hearing, because she was pointing at an 18-month-old, who is sort of half-dozing in his car seat," said Khan, 36, recalling the bewildering ordeal. "That started us down the rabbit hole of really looking into, 'Is this a real thing?' and then eventually finding out we weren't the only ones who have this problem."

But the headaches, delays and occasional missed flights for Khan and other families — who are part of the group No-Fly List Kids— may soon be over when they meet with public safety officials in Toronto on Wednesday to learn what the federal government plans to do for them.

Sebastian's hassles at the border began when he was six weeks old, his father says. (Submitted by Zamir Khan)

Khan and dozens of other families across the country in the same unfortunate situation have mobilized to get the federal government to establish an appeals process to prevent innocent people from getting stopped at the border.

In February, Ottawa announced $81.4 million over five years, and $14 million a year every year after, to create "a rigourous centralized screening model," as well as a redress system for legitimate passengers "who have the same or similar names as someone actually on the list."

"I'm driving to be there in person because it's an important meeting to me," said Khan, who lives in London, Ont. "This is the first glance we're going to get at what they plan to do with that funding and what that solution looks like — not only what the process will be for us to eventually travel just like normal citizens but also what the timeline is for that solution."

Vancouver resident Sarah Willson just recently joined the No-Fly List Kids group, which now includes roughly 200 families, but her three-year-old son named Amin Karim has been held up at the airport since he was a baby.

"It's not only inconvenient but the stigmatization of being treated differently and having to queue up in a separate line to be cleared by travel in my own country is upsetting," Willson said.

Sarah Willson says she avoids air travel altogether because her three-year-old son Amin Karim often faces delays at the airport. She says an airline official told her it was because her son's name matches a name on the no-fly list. (Submitted by Sarah Willson)

Willson will call into the Wednesday morning meeting with federal officials, and she hopes a solution will be established before her son gets much older.

"I don't think any of us can wait another decade for action," she said. "Our son is three, some of the other kids in this group are entering adulthood and that's scary for them."

I don't think any of us can wait another decade for action. - Sarah Willson, mother of Amin Karim, 3

That's an issue 20-year-old Yusuf Ahmed knows well. He says he's been held up at airports, presumably because his name matches someone deemed a security risk, since he was a little boy.

"When you're a two-year-old in a stroller you don't seem that intimidating, but when you're, 17, 18, 19, and you're a grown adult… it's more unsettling and they'll treat you a little tougher because you're no longer a cute kid," Ahmed said.

Because someone with the same name is on Canada's no-fly list, Yusuf Ahmed has had delays at check-in gates since he was a child. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

No-Fly List Kids speculates the solution Public Safety officials are working on will end up looking like the system that's been in place in the United States for more than a decade.

In the U.S., a person who's continually delayed can apply for a special travel number which they can subsequently use when booking future airline tickets to prevent being flagged.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale couldn't say how quickly the new system would be in place, but the spokesperson said Bill C-59 recently passed the House of Commons and is now before the Senate, and "there is no legal authority to create the screening and ‎redress system until it is passed."

When you're, 17, 18, 19… they'll treat you a little tougher because you're no longer a cute kid.- Yusuf Ahmed, 20

"We hope that maybe the Canadian officials can even use [the U.S.] as a model to kind of fast-track this. But we really don't want another Phoenix situation where stuff gets lost and we just want to make sure that this is seen through properly," said Ahmed.

The "Phoenix situation" Ahmed is concerned about is the debacle involving the pay system for federal employees, which caused incorrect cheques going to hundreds of thousands of Canadians, and is costing roughly $1 billion to fix.

Federal government officials have never said how many people are affected by the no-fly list, and will not disclose the number of people on the Secure Air Travel Act list due to "security reasons." In the U.S., the number of people on its comparable lists have been published.