'Empty promises': Parents of kids affected by no-fly list renew push for redress system

Frustrated parents of children affected by Canada’s no-fly list were on Parliament Hill today, pushing for a redress system in the next federal budget.

Children flagged by system due to name similarity with people on watchlist

Yusuf Ahmed, 19, of Mississauga who's part of the group known as No-Fly List Kids speaks during a news conference on Parliament Hill today. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Frustrated parents of children affected by Canada's no-fly list were on Parliament Hill today, pushing for a redress system in the next federal budget.

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.

Many people, including children, have been been delayed or prevented from boarding flights because their names are similar to those on the watchlist.

Yusuf Ahmed, a 19-year-old Canadian who says he has been on a no-fly list for most of his life, worries what could happen if he travels abroad.

"The extra waits, scrutiny and stigma that I feel while travelling in Canada, my birth country, are intimidating enough. But that's not what keeps me up at night," he said. "Almalki, El Maati, Nureddin, Arar. All of them are Canadian men detained and tortured by foreign governments based on flawed, inaccurate and false information."

Canadians demand a redress system for no-fly list

5 years ago
Duration 0:51
Yusuf Ahmed, who has been on Canada's no fly list as long as he can remember, says he is still frightened that he could be tortured by a foreign government based on flawed information if he travelled overseas.

The families appearing in Ottawa Monday want a system in place that will distinguish their children from people with similar names who may be legitimately on the watchlist. 

Armed with a petition signed by 26 prominent Canadian advocates and supporters, the group has also collected letters from 177 MPs, including 17 cabinet ministers, backing their call for a redress system in the 2018 federal budget. 

Waiting 8 years

"We've now waited eight years for a solution. Nothing but empty promises,"  Sulemaan Ahmed, whose son has been on a no-fly list since he was a toddler, told CBC News in an email.

Critics say the system is flawed because it relies on names rather than on unique identifiers such as dates of birth or passport numbers, meaning Canadians who simply share the name of someone considered a threat are wrongly caught up in the system. 

As calls mounted for Canada to implement a system to eliminate false positives, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale announced last fall a redress system modelled on the American system could be in place as early as 2018.

Goodale looking to fix 'design flaw' in no-fly legislation

5 years ago
Duration 1:30
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says that the government is trying to fix a design flaw in the legislation that governs the no-fly list in Canada.

Scott Bardsley, spokesman for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, said the typical experience of families with a child affected by the no-fly list is a delay of 10-15 minutes, though the families themselves say the wait can be much longer.

"We appreciate ‎the frustration of travellers whose names are wrongly flagged by air travel security lists and want to reassure them that work on long-term improvements to the system continues," he said in an email.

Pledge to make it clear who's on the list

Bardsley said he understands that the priority for the families affected is for the system to be fixed.

He said Bill C-59, which authorizes the government, instead of airlines, to electronically screen air passenger information, takes an"important step" towards a redress system.

Bardsley said the bill will also amend the Secure Air Travel Act (SATA) to allow parents to be able to verify whether or not their child is on the list so they can determine whether their child may have been listed in error.

But he said it will take time to make regulatory and database changes, and that in the meantime, the Passenger Protect Inquiries Office (PPIO), established last June, will assist travellers who have experienced difficulties related to aviation security lists.

According to data provided by Public Safety, the PPIO had received 194 inquiries as of June 2017. One case is ongoing, 25 did not fall within its mandate, and 168 have been resolved, including 16 cases involving children.

Adam Ahmed, right, and his father Sulemaan Ahmed have been pushing MPs to include a redress system for being falsely flagged on a no-fly list. (Ron Charles/CBC)