Out In The Open

Two parents fight to remove their child's name from Canada's 'no-fly list'

Sulemaan Ahmed and Khadija Cajee share the inconveniences and the real fears they have for their now eight-year-old child, who is on Canada's 'no-fly list'.

They share the inconveniences and the real fears they have for their now eight-year-old child.

Khadija Cajee and Sulemaan Ahmed, parents of now 8-year-old Syed Adam Ahmed, who is on Canada's 'no fly' list. (Courtesy of Sulemaan Ahmed)

Update | July 15, 2018: Since this story was originally published, the federal government has allocated tens of millions of dollars to fix Canada's no-fly list. It says the money -- which was announced in the most recent federal budget -- will be used to develop a "rigorous centralized screening model." It will also include a redress system for legitimate passengers caught up in it. Of the $81.4 million, $8 million will go out this year, with the remaining money rolled out over the next four years. As of right now, Adam Ahmed's name is still on the Designated High Profile list.

It's been a problem travelling with Sulemaan's son, Syed Adam Ahmed, since he was a baby. That's because Adam — who is eight years old now — is on Canada's Deemed High Profile list... also known as a 'no-fly list'.

"We have to go to the gate, two to three hours before [we fly] and then they have to call and confirm and clear you. Yah, sometimes it's a 5 minute delay and other times it's hours," says Sulemaan Ahmed.

At one point, on a vacation to Mexico, the family was taken to the side and their passports confiscated by Mexican authorities when Adam was 18 months old.

"We were freaking out, especially because they weren't even answering our questions...And at the time we didn't know that [Adam] was flagged." says Khadija Cajee, Adam's mom.

Sulemaan and Khadija's family became one of the faces of this issue when in 2015, Sulemaan tweeted a screenshot he took of an airport agent's computer, confirming his son is on the list. Their story became international news.

But when they get, older there are question marks around their innocence because they don't look so cute and little anymore...- Khadija Cajee

The family has been working hard to advocate on behalf of their son and get his name off of the list. 

They are a part of a larger group of families — No Fly List Kids — trying to clear their children.

Sulemaan says that from their group alone, there are about 100 children flagged as flight risks.

"It's not an issue of race or religion as far as we have experienced...But definitely post 9/11 we've come to accept that this is just the lay of the land…" says Khadija. 

Having said that, Khadija and Sulemaan want this dealt with now so they don't have to worry about Adam's future.

"As they get older the security screenings become increasingly invasive," says Khadija. 

"So, in the case of my son, he's still little. We can advocate for him. We can defend him. He's obviously innocent...But when they get older, there are question marks around their innocence because they don't look so cute and little anymore."

Sulemaan, who was a flight attendant for four years, says this isn't a matter of facing a few inconveniences for the sake of national security. 

"[W]e're not questioning security...The security is actually bad. The data is bad. 

"I think it's a part of education. So [the] people [who] say it's just an inconvenience, I don't think they see the broader issues because then years later, when something serious happens and then you have to pay out a lot more money, well, we could have prevented this."

When Piya brings up the case of Maher Arar, the family goes quiet. 

"This is actually the potential for what could happen if we keep going down this route and we don't want that to happen again, obviously," says Khadija.

This story originally aired on September 10, 2017. It appears in the Out in the Open episode "Blacklisted".