No-Fly List Snags Canadians in Error

Dozens of Canadians have formally complained about being delayed at airports because their name -- or at least one similar to theirs -- turned up on the U.S. no-fly list.

In the last two years, Transport Canada has received "some 40 to 50 complaints'' from people whose names may have been matched to the U.S. roster, spokesperson Vanessa Vermette said.

In the absence of a Canadian no-fly list, domestic airlines have been screening passengers against the U.S. one, believed to include about 70,000 people. It has resulted in at least two MPs -- Liberal Bill Graham and New Democrat Pat Martin -- running into security holdups at airports.

But until now there has been little indication of just how many people have been snagged because they have a name that matches one on the U.S. no-fly roster.

An Air Canada spokesperson refused to answer questions, saying, "We do not discuss matters of security publicly.''

Canadian carriers use a variety of information sources to ensure safety, said Fred Gaspar, a vice-president with the Air Transport Association of Canada, an airline umbrella group. "That may include information from foreign governments.''

Vermette, however, said Transport Canada feels Canadian carriers "should not be using the U.S. list to screen passengers on Canadian domestic flights.''

Vermette noted provisions of the Aeronautics Act allow the transport minister to prevent someone who poses a threat to a flight from boarding the plane. "That's already in place,'' she said. "So if that were to happen we would certainly take action to protect passengers.''

Documents obtained by the Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act were stripped of passages dealing with the question of whether the minister has actually resorted to these powers.

"We can't provide any information about that for security reasons,'' Vermette said.

The department advises Canadians who believe their name matches one on an American list to follow the redress procedures of the U.S. Transportation Security Administration.

Individuals must send notarized documentation confirming their identity to the U.S. agency, spokesperson Amy Kudwa said. The agency then sends the individual a letter telling them whether they have been added to a "cleared'' list.

Receiving cleared status should make check-in procedures smoother, she said.

"The (agency) makes every effort to assist those passengers who are experiencing delays because of mistaken identity or incorrect information.''

An average of 1,500 people seek redress from the Transportation Security Administration each week, Kudwa said. The figures are not broken down by nationality.

Gaspar said airlines are looking forward to the development of a Canadian no-fly list, expected by the end of the year. "Because everybody wins once we can actually get to a point of having solid, reliable homegrown information.''

Privacy advocate Philippa Lawson said there's no excuse for Canadian carriers to be checking passengers against the U.S. list for flights within Canada in the interim.

"It's clear . . . that list is terribly flawed and full of names that should not be on it,'' said Lawson, head of the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic at the University of Ottawa. "But that may be a good reason for us to get moving and get our list in place.''

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