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Drawn Conclusions > media

"The illegal we do immediately. The unconstitutional takes a little longer."

Henry Kissinger. New York Times, Oct. 28.1973


"The power of Shahid’s cartoons are acute. Take a close look if you dare. Instead of euphemisms, find direct statements; instead of evasion, find candor. The skill of illustration is matched by the acuity of vision..."

Norman Solomon







Sep 18, 03:20 PM

Canada's no-fly list runs into rights storm

Toronto Star - Michelle Shephard, November 18, 2006:

Canada's no-fly list — intended to keep suspected terrorists from boarding airplanes — is starting to run into turbulence just weeks before the security program is implemented in airports across the country. Critics of the list, known as Passenger Protect, say it could lead to the abuse of civil liberties, and are not satisfied by the federal government's efforts to ease their concerns. Others are questioning the effectiveness of no-fly lists. Many security and law enforcement officials interviewed by the Star this week believe there are already immigration or law enforcement checks in place to ensure known terrorists or those deemed a risk to passengers are stopped from boarding flights.

Of the many security measures introduced after 9/11, no-fly lists have been among the most mysterious, ridiculed, and in the high-profile case of Canadian Maher Arar, have had tragic consequences. Shahid Mahmood of Toronto is among those Canadians who are now frightened to fly to the United States due to questions surrounding  no-fly lists, and he encourages others to challenge the government's plan to implement its own list by next year. Since he was denied a ticket for a flight from Vancouver to Victoria in 2004 because his name was flagged by Air Canada, Mahmood, an architect and freelance editorial cartoonist, has spent almost three years hounding government departments and the airline for answers. Among the unresolved questions surrounding Passenger Protect is how precise the criteria will be in compiling the list, how information will be shared, and whether the project that has already cost $13 million will be effective or is simply a public relations show of force. "Given the precautions we've already taken, why is this necessary?" asks the Canadian Civil Liberties Association's Alexi Woods. And if it's not necessary, could the list do more damage than good? The American no-fly list, which has more than 80,000 names on it, was created hastily in the wake of 9/11, and is regarded as unwieldy and unreliable. There have been countless stories of mistaken identities — such as the "terrorist toddler," a 4-year-old whose name is flagged whenever he flies with his family. Transport Canada officials say they have learned from the U.S. mistakes, insisting that the need to meet specific criteria and have the consensus of a committee make the Canadian list more sound. But ambiguities remain. Transport Canada says the only people listed will be those who have been "involved in a terrorist group and who can reasonably be suspected will endanger the security of an aircraft or the safety of the public," and those convicted of aviation crimes.

Security and law enforcement officials who recently spoke to the Star on the condition they were not identified, say they believe these criteria set strict limits and mean the Canadian list will be extremely short. But there is room for interpretation when considering how "reasonably suspected" is defined and what constitutes a terrorist group. "Depending on how you interpret that, I'm not sure it's necessarily a narrow list," says Senator Colin Kenny, chair of the national security and defence committee. Transport Canada spokeswoman Vanessa Vermette said the definition of a terrorist group does not necessarily mean those designated by the Canadian government, and listed in the Criminal Code as banned terrorist entities. Instead, she said, it will be determined on a "case-by-case" basis. Then there's the issue of what happens once information is shared. While there will be a review process that allows those listed to try to get their name expunged from the list, what happens once an investigation by the RCMP or local police force begins? For instance, someone could be listed, then 30 days later have their name taken off the list if the "reconsideration process" concludes they were erroneously included in the first place. But at that point, an investigation may have already been initiated by the RCMP or the police force responsible for security at the airport, which in Toronto rests with Peel Region police. There appears to be no oversight process for ensuring a person's file — and alleged connection to terrorist activity — is erased from police databases. And, says Kenny, it's naïve to think that will always happen. "If you ask me what is right, the answer would be to have a foolproof system, so if someone doesn't belong on the list that all of the information that was collected about that person be destroyed. I simply don't think that's doable," says Kenny. "And how would you check it? How would you ever know?" While Canadian security and police forces have regulations in place to protect information concerning Canadian investigations from international counterparts, the Arar case highlighted how easily policies can be disregarded and mistakes made. A federal inquiry revealed that the Canadian engineer's name appeared on an American border-watch list, where he was labelled an "Islamic fundamentalist" due to erroneous information passed from the RCMP. That mistake likely led to Arar's year-long detention in Syria, interrogation and torture, the inquiry report stated. At a security conference in Ottawa last month the Star asked the U.S. State Department's co-ordinator for counterterrorism, Henry Crumpton, if the same scenario presented itself today — if a Canadian were to travel to the United States and appear on a watch list — could that Canadian citizen still be deported to a country such as Syria for questioning? "The discussions we've had with the Canadian government have been very productive," he told almost 500 conference participants. "But you'll pardon me if I pass on the question." The following week, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice issued a formal assurance that her country is committed to notifying and consulting Canada about citizens who may be involuntarily removed to a third country. Which doesn't mean it couldn't happen again today.

Shahid Mahmood is still awaiting an answer as to why he was denied a ticket for an Air Canada flight. Despite his tenacity, an impressive array of correspondence from government agencies and an appearance in Parliament, Mahmood is really no closer to finding out on what list his name appears, why it's listed, or if it's a case of mistaken identity. All he has been told is that in 2004, Canada did not have a no-fly list. He has been left to speculate that the airline was using an American list on a domestic flight, a claim Air Canada denies. Mahmood said he is also haunted by a meeting he and his wife had last February with a senior official in former transport minister Jean Lapierre's office. According to Mahmood, the official had specifically requested that the three meet away from his office because he had to tell them something in confidence. Mahmood's plight had already been covered in the Star, and two days before the official contacted him, he had given an extensive interview with CBC radio. So Mahmood drove to Ottawa, believing, he said, he would finally get answers. Instead, Mahmood claims, the official had the facts of his case wrong, and then asked him about his politics. "The first thing he said," Mahmood recalled in an interview this week was "`why do you think you're on the list? Don't you think what you do is enough to get you on the watch list,'" which Mahmood took as a reference to his editorial cartoons that are often critical of American foreign policy. Mahmood also claimed that the official told him the more media attention he seeks, "the thicker his file" becomes. But an email the official sent to Mahmood after the meeting stated he had intended the meeting as a chance to tell him "it was all a mistake," and that Mahmood's name had corresponded with someone else's. And the official apologized for having erroneous information about Mahmood's case. "This is what was given to me by the department, although it was deemed highly classified ... that's why I didn't want to do it over the phone or via email (which I'm doing now anyways)."

"After our conversation on Saturday, I truly believe I was lied to by someone in my department, either purposefully, or someone passing along incorrect information unknowingly," the official wrote in a February 2005 email. Mahmood said that after this meeting, and due to his attempts to get answers from federal bureaucrats, he has reason to now be skeptical of the government's assurances that privacy will be protected and an appeal process streamlined when Canada's own watch list is implemented.


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