Boy at centre of fight against ‘no-fly list’ including innocent people flagged again

Boy at centre of fight against ‘no-fly list’ including innocent people flagged again

A 10-year-old boy at the forefront of a fight to solve the problem of innocent Canadians ending up on the so-called no-fly list has once again found himself red-flagged — and the federal government now says a solution isn’t expected until late 2020.

Adam Ahmed was just six years old when he was stopped at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport while travelling with his father to a hockey game to see his beloved Montreal Canadiens — and flagged as a possible security threat.

Nearly four years later, it’s happened again — again on the way to see the Habs — with the government now saying a redress system isn’t expected to be operational until late next year.

That’s news to Ahmed’s mother, Khadija Cajee, who said the government had previously told her family a system would be in place in June of next year.

“It’s definitely not what we want to hear, but as they know by now, we’re not going anywhere,” Cajee said. “We just try to deal with it as best we can and keep it pressure up.”

‘This doesn’t inspire confidence’

Since Ahmed’s story first made headlines in 2016, he and his parents — along with dozens of other families — have been actively pushing for a redress system for those falsely flagged on the controversial list, which is built on names rather than on unique identifiers such as dates of birth or passport numbers.

That fight even included an eight-year-old Adam, dressed in his best suit and sneakers, attending a closed-door meeting on Parliament Hill two years ago to push for the system to become a reality. 

Canada’s so-called no-fly list — officially called the Specified Persons List under the Secure Air Travel Act (SATA) — dates back to 2007. The government has not confirmed how many people are on it, but it’s estimated to contain as many as 2,000 names of people considered a threat.

When Adam’s name came up on the list again Saturday, his father took to Twitter in frustration.

The federal government’s new public safety minister Bill Blair tweeted in response: “Sorry to hear of the recent difficulties experienced by you and your son. My office has been in touch and I look forward to talking with you about the work to prevent this for you and other families.”

Many of those families, banding together through the group No Fly List Kids, had hoped a solution would be coming sooner than later.

The path for a redress system seemed to have cleared after Bill C-59, the Liberal government’s massive national security bill, passed in June.

“With the passage of Bill C-59, we can now proceed with the regulatory process to make the necessary changes to the Secure Air Travel Regulations,” a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said at the time. The spokesperson added that a system would be operational in 2020, though an exact timing wasn’t given. 

Redress system now expected late 2020

A statement from Blair’s office Saturday said he appreciates “the frustration of law-abiding travelers who can be stigmatized and delayed as a result of false positives,” and that he looks forward to meeting with Ahmed and other affected families.

The government said it has invested $81.4 million over five years and $14 million annually in subsequent years to build a centralized screening system, which will include a redress system. With the passage of Bill C-59, the government was able to “take control of the list from airlines” to create a system that would allow travellers to distinguish themselves from people actually flagged on the list.

“‎The Government of Canada is working with its partners to implement an enhanced program as quickly as possible, which requires the development of IT systems and its adoption by air carriers.  It is expected to begin operating in late 2020. We are grateful for the patience and understanding of those affected in the meantime,” the statement said.

It’s just absolutely ridiculous that you know children continue to be flagged in this way.– Khadija Cajee

Adam’s mother said she’s looking forward to working with the new minister, but that change can’t come soon enough. 

“It’s just absolutely ridiculous that you know children continue to be flagged in this way,” she said.

“It’s been four years that we’ve been advocating on it, but it’s been 10 years since my son has been on this list and 12 years since it was implemented. So I think that’s long enough,” said Cajee.

Khadija Cajee says the government had previously told the family a redress system would be in place in June of next year. That it is now not expected until late 2020, she says, is ‘definitely not what we want to hear.’ (CBC)

Adam eventually made it to Saturday’s game in Montreal. But with him getting older now, she worries about him feeling criminalized.

“He already feels that he already feels singled out a little bit… He knows three other people with the name Adam Ahmed so he knows it’s a name-match situation, but it’s no less stigmatizing,” she said.

He’s also come to learn of other boys facing increased security checks as they get older because of the families he’s met through his ordeal.

“Some of them now, even though they’re adults are afraid of traveling by themselves. So I know these things are in the back of his mind sometimes.”

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