Liberals to fix no-fly list, create system to help people wrongly flagged as security risks

The federal government is making changes to fix the no-fly list that had seen toddlers and other Canadians mistakenly flagged as aviation security risks.

'You feel like you're being stigmatized,' says mother of wrongly detained 3-year-old

Sarah Willson says travel is inconvenient and stressful because her three-year-old son Amin Karim's name matches a name on the no-fly list. (Submitted by Sarah Willson)

The federal government is making changes to fix the no-fly list that had seen toddlers and other Canadians mistakenly flagged as aviation security risks.

A senior government official briefed reporters Wednesday on a new regulatory regime for an Enhanced Passenger Protect Program. The changes stem from a pledge in this year's budget to close gaps with an $81 million investment.

One of the changes will bring the process of matching passenger manifests with the no-fly list compiled by intelligence and enforcement agencies under government control, instead of having the screening done by the airline. There will also be an automated redress system for passengers with false positive matches to the no-fly list.

That will provide a passenger who has been mistakenly flagged with a redress number they can plug in to clear them for future flights.

Preventing 'false positives'

"That will help override any false positives. It will be seamless as you check in. When you buy your ticket online you'll be able to print your boarding pass at home and so on. There will be no interruption on the traveller experience," said a senior government official.

The program is designed to prevent individuals who may be a terrorist or security threat, or who may be travelling for the purpose of taking part in terrorist activities, from boarding aircraft.

But many people, including young children, have been mistakenly flagged as risks due to name matches, causing distress and delays for many families.

Under the changes, security screening will become a centralized, automated process and reduce the need for manual intervention to resolve false positive matches.

Passenger data would be submitted to the government as early as 72 hours before departure, allowing the government to clear passengers before check-in and arrival at the airport.

Legislative hurdles

The changes require two pieces of legislation to pass which are now before the Senate, as well as significant technology changes, so it is not clear when the new system will be up and running.

The government official said in the meantime, representatives are reaching out to private industry, members of the public who are affected and other stakeholders to ensure the government is on the right path to prepare and "expedite" things once the legislative hurdles are cleared.

"Everything hinges on a legislative process, so I need to know the outcome of that before I can be more clear on how quick we can go over the next year or so," he said. 

Public Safety's website provides information about how those affected can take steps to clear false positives, he said.

The government official would not disclose how many people are on the no-fly list for operational and security reasons, nor would he divulge how many people have been flagged through false positives.

Vancouver resident Sarah Willson is a member of the No-Fly List Kids group of about 200 families, which has been lobbying the federal government for changes.

The federal government is moving ahead with changes to fix the Passenger Protect Program, which has erroneously flagged people on the no-fly list. (CBC)

Her three-year-old son, named Amin Karim, has been held up at the airport several times since he was a baby, and she called the length of time taken for action is "unacceptable." Willson hopes the government will move swiftly to implement the redress system, even if other elements of the enhanced program take more time.

"We're concerned about delays or a possibility of the project being stalled or even stopped, especially given the upcoming federal election," she said.

Willson said the false positive identification has made travel inconvenient and stressful.

"You feel like you're being stigmatized. You're in a separate lineup to travel within your own country. It's pretty ridiculous."

Conservative MP Erin O'Toole has been pushing the issue with all parties, and said Canadians of all ages have been mistakenly flagged as security threats.

"[Goodale] should also acknowledge that children are among the false positives as are veterans, business leaders and a cross section of Canadians. Let's see his plan as soon as possible as we will support fixing this unfair situation," he said in an email.

Goodale said he wants to move "as fast as possible" on a stand-alone, government-controlled system.

"That means when someone checks in at their home computer or a kiosk, if there is a false positive they can get a redress number immediately and that number will clear their record on the system," he said.