Canadian citizen has Nexus card revoked in wake of partial travel ban, questions U.S. procedures

In the wake of U.S. President Donald Trump's partial travel ban, a Toronto man has had his Nexus card suddenly revoked and is calling on the Canadian government to help him get answers.

U.S. denies executive order related to Nexus cancellations, lawyer calls for clearer disclosure

Less than two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed a limited version of President Donald Trump's ban on travellers from six Muslim-majority countries, a Toronto man says he was shocked to find his Nexus card suddenly revoked. (CBC Edmonton)

In the wake of U.S. President Donald Trump's partial travel ban, a Toronto man has had his Nexus card suddenly revoked and is calling on the Canadian government to help him get answers. 

The man says he had just arrived back from a trip to Saudi Arabia, where he was born, on June 30. Four days later, he received an email from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) saying there had been a change to the status of his account.

He logged in to find that his Nexus membership was revoked. The reason: He no longer met the program's eligibility requirements.

"I actually was kind of afraid that this would happen because I've been hearing some horror stories," said the man, who CBC News is not naming because he fears repercussions. 

Becoming a Nexus member involves extensive in-person screening — as well as travel, employment and criminal history — and gives pre-clearance to those approved, allowing them avoid long wait times at designated ports of entry when travelling between Canada and the United States.

'Who do you think is credible?'

An employee of a local law enforcement agency, the man says he's gone through extensive security screening for his work. CBC News is not revealing the name of his employer because he is concerned about professional repercussions.

But had his background raised any red flags, the man says, his employer would have been the first to notice.

"If I'm not trustworthy… then who do you think is credible?" he said.

As a dual citizen of Canada and Pakistan, the man said he wasn't worried when he first learned of a new executive order banning visitors from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen who cannot prove a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States. He says he travels south of the border two or three times a year to visit family.

But he now wonders if his name set off alarm bells for border authorities when he used his Nexus on his way back to Canada.

A spokesperson for the U.S. border protection agency Jennifer Gabris says any suggestion that a Muslim-sounding name would result in a revocation is "completely false."

But the Toronto man isn't alone in losing Nexus.

'A common thread'

Toronto-based International trade lawyer Cyndee Todgham Cherniak tells CBC News she has been contacted by four other men, all with what she says are Muslim-sounding names, who have also received surprise revocations since the partial ban was implemented. All are male, she says, and all are either Canadian citizens or permanent residents.

CBC News has not independently verified those cases.

Toronto lawyer Cyndee Todgham Cherniak says the category of being "low risk" is much too vague and allows Nexus cards to be revoked without enough transparency to members as to the reasons why. She wants to see the Canadian government step in to establish a process to seek out why a Nexus is revoked and be able to take action to have it reinstated if unfairly cancelled. (CBC)

Todgham Cherniak has found what she calls "a common thread" amongst those who have told their stories to her.

"Often, but not 100 per cent, the individual's name is Mohammed," Todgham Cherniak said.

News of the revocations comes only months after CBC News broke the story of some 200 Canadian permanent residents' Nexus cards being revoked in the wake of Trump's initial executive order. That prompted questions at Parliament Hill about what the federal government was doing to protect Canadians from being caught up in the ban. The 200 Nexus cards were later reinstated.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection denied any connection between the partial travel ban and the Nexus card revocations, and says the Department of Homeland Security is not reviewing the vetting process for the Trusted Traveller membership program, which Nexus falls under.

U.S. border agency denies ban leading to revocations

Asked if any letters of revocation had gone out to Nexus-holders with connections to any of the six countries under the ban or other Muslim-majority countries, Gabris replied: "No, because no one will or has had their membership revoked as a result of the executive order implementation."

Nor would having a passport from certain countries, whether on or off the list of banned countries, automatically deem someone a risk, Gabris said.

There are conditions under which a person's Nexus card can be cancelled, including providing false or incomplete information on their application, having any criminal convictions or charges, violating customs or immigration laws, being the subject of an ongoing investigation, and being unable to satisfy U.S. authorities of one's "low-risk status."

That last category is one that Todgham Cherniak says is unfairly vague.

"There's a basket category that is 'You are not of good character.' And so when they send out these letters that say your Nexus privileges have been cancelled because you no longer meet the eligibility criteria...what is it that has made the U.S. government say this person is no longer eligible? We don't know that and there's no way for us to get that very important piece of information."

Calls for Canadian government to act

That's because while Canadians can appeal to the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol ombudsman, the border agency isn't required to state the reason why someone's membership is revoked. On top of that, Todgham Cherniak says, the process can take as long as eight to 10 months and often is unsuccessful.

She says she'd like to see the Canadian government push for a process for Canadians to certify they have not committed an infraction and ask for detailed reasons why their Nexus memberships have been revoked.

For its part, the Canadian Border Services Agency says it cannot comment on specific cases due to privacy considerations, but that Canada and the U.S. each determine admissibility into the Nexus program independently of the other country and that acceptance by one does not guarantee acceptance by the other.

"The CBSA continues to work closely with our U.S. counterparts with all cross-border matters to ensure safety, security and the economic prosperity of our respective borders," spokesperson Barre Campbell wrote in an email to CBC News.

Neither the agency nor the public safety minister's office would answer whether Canada will review the American appeals process.

For now, the Toronto man who spoke to CBC News wants the Canadian government to step in so that he and others can get answers.

'That's the world we live in'

"If this can happen to will potentially happen to other Canadians," he said.

Until then, he says, he's concerned about what impact having a cancelled Nexus could have on him at the border. With a name like his, he says he's used to having to go through extra screening. He says anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S. is nothing new.

It's just like the quip made by the visa officer at the U.S. consulate long before Trump's travel ban, he says.

"Saudi-born, Pakistani national? Sir, I think we have a problem… We need to do a background check on you," he remembers the man telling him.

"Even though he was joking, I think that's the world we live in."

See a copy of the revocation notice below:

A copy of the sudden revocation letter that a Toronto man received when he logged into the Nexus system online, after returning from a trip to Saudi Arabia four days earlier. (CBC)