Suspicious friends could land you on airline no-fly list

Posted by admin on May 9th, 2011

By Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press, May 9 2011

OTTAWA—Simply knowing someone suspected of terrorist activities could land you on Canada’s no-fly list, according to an internal document the government tried to keep secret. Criteria for possible addition to the list includes a person “who directly associates with” an alleged extremist, says the draft document prepared by Transport Canada officials.

The no-fly list, which came into effect in June 2007, is intended to prevent people considered a threat to airline security from getting on a flight taking off in — or heading to — Canada.

The government says candidates for the list are assessed “on a case-by-case basis,” but the precise criteria for inclusion have long been a mystery.

Civil libertarians, opposition MPs and the federal privacy commissioner have all raised concerns about fairness of the no-fly roster.

The Canadian Press requested records related to the planned no-fly list under the Access to Information Act more than five years ago. While some documents were released, others were withheld. A complaint to the federal information commissioner only recently dislodged the late 2005 draft memo outlining “selection factors” for inclusion on the list.

Transport Canada did not reply to questions about why the material was kept under wraps for years.

The one-page memo divides the selection factors into three types of threats: individual, criminal and terrorist. All three categories flag people with an interest in or history of attacking civilian aircraft. But they also provide new details about who might be added to the no-fly list.

The individual category singles out those whose “mental instability” is considered a threat to an airliner as well as people with “a history of unruly violent behaviour against aviation.”

The criminal criteria include those with a record of violence coupled with “a motive to attack or harm an air carrier.”

A person who has “attended a terrorist training camp and has gained knowledge that can be used to target the aviation sector” falls under the terrorism-related criteria. The category also includes someone who “directly associates with an individual who is known for or suspected of terrorist acts.”

The document cautions the factors would be considered “as part of an overall assessment of an individual.”

“Other factors for consideration include how long ago the behaviour/action occurred, and in what context it happened.”

Those caveats provide little comfort, said Roch Tasse of the Ottawa-based International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group.

Potentially adding someone to the no-fly list because they associate with a person merely suspected of terrorist activity makes an unfair practice worse, he said.

“It’s like a double-whammy,” he said. “It’s almost a double violation of your rights.”

The Public Safety Department, which now has responsibility for compilation of the list, did not respond to questions about the selection criteria.

Candidates for the no-fly list are put forward primarily by the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. Members of these agencies, along with representatives of Public Safety, Transport and the Justice Department, sit on an advisory panel that formally recommends names for inclusion. The public safety minister then decides if someone is added.

People are not notified in advance they are on the list, finding out only if they try to fly.

There is only one publicly known instance — involving a Montreal-area student — of someone being prevented from boarding a plane because they are on the Canadian no-fly list.

Independent consultants hired by Transport Canada later found the student should never have been barred from an Air Canada flight, and recommended the department carry out a sweeping review of the no-fly list.

Tasse says a bigger problem is the continuing use of the much larger U.S. no-fly list by Canadian airlines, even for flights within Canada.

“We have many cases of people who can now not fly because they’re on the U.S. no-fly list.”

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