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Liberal MPs call on Morneau to fund improvements to no-fly list

A properly funded redress system would allow passengers whose names closely match those on the no-fly list to apply for a unique identification number.

J.P. MOCZULSKI/The Globe and Mail

Dozens of Liberal MPs and at least one cabinet minister are pushing Finance Minister Bill Morneau to put money aside in next year's budget for a passenger-redress system to protect Canadian travellers, including children, whose names closely match those on the country's no-fly list.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen is one of 50 Liberals MPs – accounting for more than 25 per cent of the 180-member party caucus – who are asking Mr. Morneau to fund the establishment of an independent no-fly-list computer system to allow for smooth travel for law-abiding Canadian airline passengers and their children.

"The error in the Passenger Protect Program results in certain Canadian children being subject to security problems at airports because the affected person's name is the same as an individual on Canada's no-fly list," Mr. Hussen wrote in a letter to Mr. Morneau, obtained by The Globe and Mail. "I believe this is an important problem to address in budget 2018 and support providing the necessary funding to make this redress program a reality."

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Last year, the Public Safety Ministry proposed $78-million annually to set up a U.S.-style standalone no-fly-list database computer system but the measure was killed by Mr. Morneau's department.

Liberal MP Wayne Easter, who has been a vocal critic of Mr. Morneau's small-business tax changes, said the Finance Minister needs to find the money to help families who routinely face travel delays from being caught by the no-fly list.

"The reason the letters are going to the Minister of Finance is because it really is a money issue in terms of setting up the technology," he told The Globe on Tuesday. "It makes no sense to me that a six-year-old of a Canadian parent can't get on a plane."

A properly funded redress system would allow passengers whose names closely match those on the no-fly list to apply for a unique identification number. They can use the number at the time of a ticket purchase to clear their name in advance and prevent flight delays.

Over the past several years, Ottawa has been hit by a spate of complaints from airline passengers, including the parents of young children who were unable to board flights because their names mysteriously match those of suspected terrorists on the no-fly list.

Unlike the United States's standalone system, Canada's current no-fly-list database is designed to piggyback on to airline computers, making it more problematic to deal with misunderstandings over identity.

Heather Harder, who is part of a parent-led redress campaign that uses the hashtag #NoFlyListKids, said her 3 1/2-year-old son Sebastien Khan has been repeatedly targeted when the family travels by air.

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"We purchase the ticket. We put in all the information that they ask for including birthday. We even have put passport numbers," she said. "We are denied checking in ahead of time so we have to show up early to the airport where we undergo additional screening and then we are able to take the flight. This happens for every flight for us. We have never flown outside of Canada because we are afraid to."

Ms. Harder's group has 25 signed letters from Liberal MPs to Mr. Morneau and e-mail commitments from 25 other Liberal MPs to write the minister, seeking funding for a Canadian no-fly list computer system that would be administered by Public Safety, Transport Canada and Canada Border Services Agency.

"It's a global world and we have to be able to say we are as good as other countries," said Liberal MP Kate Young, who already sent her letter to the minister.

Brampton-East Liberal MP Raj Grewal, who represents one of the most diverse ridings in the country, said it's upsetting to hear from constituents whose children have been pulled aside every time they go to the airport.

"When certain segments of our society, minorities, are being affected by something that the majority of Canadians take for granted like going to the airport and getting on the plane and not having to be pulled aside or denied access, it is so frustrating for them," Mr. Raj said.

Mr. Morneau's office did not respond to a request from The Globe for comment on whether he would provide the funding in budget 2018.

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Dan Brien, a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, said the government is committed to improving the reliability of the no-fly system, which is intended to keep people with terrorist ties from getting on planes.

"We appreciate the frustration of travellers whose names are wrongly flagged by air-travel security lists and want to reassure them that work on long-term improvements to the system continues," Mr. Brien said in an e-mail. "However, it will take time to make regulatory and database changes to support a redress system."

In the meantime, Mr. Brien said the government has set up a new federal office to deal with false name matches on the Canadian no-fly list. The Passenger Protect Inquiries Act provides an appeal process and works closely with the United States to help sort out identity errors, he said.

However, the families of those affected say a formal system is needed because their children are still on the no-fly list even after applying for an appeal with the office.

"The system is broken and there needs to be a redress so that people whose names are on the list can apply to get off the list if they are not actually that person of interest," Ms. Harder said.

The government will not say how many Canadians are on the no-fly list despite a request from the Office of the Information Commissioner.

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About the Author
Ottawa Bureau Chief

Robert Fife is The Globe and Mail's Ottawa Bureau Chief and the host of CTV's "Question Period with The Globe and Mail's Robert Fife." He uncovered the Senate expense scandal, setting the course for an RCMP investigation, audits and reform of Senate expense rules. In 2012, he exposed the E. More


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