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Nov 9, 04:06 PM

To sue or not to sue...

First published July 2005
It has been a year since I was not allowed to board an Air Canada flight (AC-8087). I have had the case covered in the media and on Parliament Hill but to no avail. Air Canada tells me that all security issues are regulated by the Ministry of Transportation. A recent letter read, “Air Canada is obligated to comply with the law and specifically with the law regarding security. We are not at liberty to disclose the specifics of such compliance.” Meanwhile the Ministry of Transportation tells me they do not regulate a no-fly list. In the end, all I know is that my designation comes from the United States. Both Airline and Ministry refuse to acknowledge that I was flagged even though my “High-Profile designation” was mistakenly written on a business card by an unaware airline agent. Currently, there is no way in Canada to know if one’s name appears on a security no-fly list.

Jean Lapierre, the Transportation Minister, has written to me only after being pressured by journalists and the NDP in the House of Commons. His responses neatly sidestep any responsibility and tell me to seek redress with Air Canada even though I have reiterated to him that the airline told me airport security falls under Federal jurisdiction. On March 9th, during Question Period, Jean Lapierre categorically stated that his Department was actually developing such a Canadian security list. This is in contradiction to his public statements which continue to emphasize that the Government does not maintain nor enforce such lists.

Earlier this year I had given a radio interview about my circumstances on CBC’s The Current. Immediately after the interview I was surreptitiously contacted by Jean Lapierre’s assistant. He told me he had classified information which would help clarify matters for me. Upon meeting him I was subtly told to “back-off”. Instead of being told anything helpful, I was asked what my political leanings were as a syndicated political cartoonist and that all my attempts to get any type of answer would be stonewalled at the Ministry of Transportation. I was also told that the more media presence I gave the case the “thicker and thicker” my file would get.

The NDP have been particularly supportive during this period. They began by contacting airport officials who corroborated my story at the Vancouver airport. This was important as Air Canada has refused to acknowledge the incident and falsely maintain that I showed up with no proper identification. Libby Davies, an NDP MP from Vancouver and NDP leader Jack Layton have pushed my case in the House of Commons and at various press-conferences. I was invited to a press-conference on Parliament Hill allowing me the opportunity to speak about my case during the unveiling of Bill C-296. This proposed Bill, which would ban racial profiling in Canada, has the support of all the political parties with the notable exception of the Liberal government.

The irony in all this is that the United States, a country that does not mince words about maintaining watch lists actually provides a means for recourse. In admitting that there are watch-lists the US Government also acknowledges that mistakes will be made and apologies will be given. People can seek redress in the United States. There is a debate in the United States on how best to handle this problem. In Canada, on the other hand, Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan and Jean Lapierre make regular and rhetorical remarks to the Press continuing to deny both racial profiling and security lists. Screening and profiling happens. The government must publicly admit to this so people have legitimate recourse channels available to them? I am in a position now that all I can do is dial a 1-800 Home Land Security telephone number in the United States. Hopefully I can get some answers. If that doesn’t work I have considered, as a last resort, crossing into the United States to see what happens. If I am detained or turned back I will whole heartedly sue Jean Lapierre and Anne McLellan upon my return. Perhaps then they will be compelled to give me a straightforward answer.

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