No Fly List Kids

Sometimes the best laid plans can have unintended circumstances. Earlier this month, children and their parents from the group known as the “No Fly List Kids” came to Ottawa to plead their case to MP’s and ministers for assurance that funding from the 2018 federal budget would be allocated to create a new computer system to fix a problem that has had serious, negative impact on their lives, due to no fault of their own.

Imagine a scenario where you were in line with your children, waiting at security to go to Disney World after years of saving for a family holiday. You are asked to step aside for extra screening and you learn that your one year old infant who is in your arms, has been identified as being on the No Fly List. Sounds ridiculous, right? Imagine having to tell your kids that you’ve missed your flight and the trip is cancelled. Now consider that not only has this incident impacted this one trip, but it could potentially impact your one year old child’s future employment or their admission into universities and schools.

To provide some more context, the No Fly List used to be a smaller list with names of high-risk Canadians who were deemed a risk to public safety if they flew on a passenger airline. Now, there is a growing issue with individuals and most upsettingly, innocent weeks-old infants, who have very common names that are duplicative and appear on the No Fly List. Because they don’t have bio-metric or photographic methods in place, by virtue of their name alone, these families have found themselves in repeated situations at airports where they are held up, screened and in some cases, barred from flights. Even in Durham, we have multiple cases of families affected.

Two shockingly notable examples are the names David Matthews and David Smith. One is a 6-year old child who is the son of a Canadian veteran who served in the military for this country. Combined, there are over 7500 hits on their names with a simple Google search, that shows that there are potentially thousands of others who are being unfairly penalized simply because they happen to share a name with someone who is presumed a security threat.

There is currently an ever-growing list of children across the country who have endured nerve-racking airport delays because their names match one on a no-fly list. The government has proposed legislation that is packaging security-related measure, including a proposed amendment to the Secure Air Travel Act that will allow the public safety minister to notify parents that their child is not on the Canadian no-fly list and they believe that this would provide assurance to parents about their child’s status. It would also allow federal officials to electronically screen air passenger information against the list – a process that is currently managed by the airlines. The Liberal government insists that this would prevent false name matches by enabling it to issue unique redress numbers for pre-flight verification of identity. All of these proposals require a new computer system and there was no allocated funding for it in the last federal budget.

This is entirely unfair to thousands of Canadian families for their children to be captured as a false positive on a No Fly List and it is virtually impossible to have this mistake rectified. Not only is this profoundly unfair, it limits the mobility rights of the child and their family. It also does little for public confidence in our system of airline safety because Canadians see a flawed list populated by children, veterans and other Canadians who are no risk whatsoever.

The Liberal government should have taken advantage of the unique opportunity to fix the systemic No Fly List problems when renegotiating NAFTA; they should have discussed border issues and a range of Beyond the Border initiatives. The long-term effectiveness of public safety measures in airline travel requires the participation of the United States.

Canada needs a re-dress system like the United States. The government has tabled various pieces of legislation that amount to the most comprehensive overhaul of customs, border pre-clearance powers and airline passenger rights in a generation. Bill C-21, An Act to Amend the Customs Act and Bill C-23, An Act Respecting Preclearance of Persons and Goods in Canada and the United States represent substantial changes to the way that information is shared between Canada and the United States regarding the movement of peoples across our border and powers of preclearance and screening of people before they cross. There is also have Bill C-49 that introduces and Airline Passengers Bill of Rights, but the right to have an improperly included minor removed from a No Fly List is not part of the bill. It should be. This comprehensive legislative agenda involving the airline passenger rights, border screening and the movement of people across the Canada-U.S. border calls out for the No Fly List problems to also be fixed.

If you are planning any travel this holiday season and you find yourself at airport security, consider the frustration of all of those families who have been impacted. Please let me know if this has impacted your family in any way.