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Canada's No-Fly List May Erode Security Rather Than Enhance It

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Don't ask Syed Adam Ahmed about the airport. Normally shy but amiable, the six-year-old growls in frustration while his face clouds over like an oncoming hurricane.

The little hockey fan from Markham, Ont. is still extremely upset that he almost missed out on attending an NHL game in the U.S. because his name is the same of a person on Canada's so-called 'no-fly list,' which prevents individuals with suspected ties to terror from boarding planes.

This case of mistaken identity has plagued the family since Adam was a toddler, according to his mother, Khadija Cajee.

"We don't want him to grow up feeling like he's under suspicion for the rest of his life," says Cajee. "We feel like second class citizens because of this."

syed adam ahmed

Ill-conceived measures, like the no-fly list must be made smarter so they do not target the innocent.

Since the Ahmed family went public with their story, 21 others have spoken up to say that they, too, have children wrongly identified by the no-fly list. Cajee knows of at least 20 more families who remain silent for fear of government, or public, reprisal. All have experienced security hassles and delays at Canadian airports and some have even missed flights. The problem is beyond the control of airlines, our sources tell us. Once a name is flagged, airport counter staff are locked out of the system until they call a government agency to have the block lifted.

However, Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale recently told CBC Radio he can't even say whether the no-fly list has ever actually prevented a real terror suspect from travelling.

Ill-conceived measures, like the no-fly list must be made smarter so they do not target the innocent. Otherwise, they have the ironic potential to actually erode our national security by alienating those they single out and stigmatize.

In late 2014, as media whipped up hysteria about Canadian youth leaving to join the Islamic State militia, we interviewed experts on how young people become radicalized. These experts point out that radicalization is not as great a problem here as in countries like France or Britain.

Over the past year, some 130 to 200 Canadians are known to have joined radical militias overseas, compared to more than 1,400 French and 1,600 UK citizens. Experts told us this is because Canada is a more inclusive society; immigrant and minority youth are less likely to feel alienated and powerless here -- emotions that radical recruiters exploit.

But the way the no-fly list works, with a total lack of transparency and overwhelmingly targeting just one group -- Muslims -- feelings of alienation and powerlessness are exactly what the no-fly list is causing.

When we uphold that spirit of inclusion, Canada thrives as a multicultural nation where others fail.

Zamir Khan's son Sebastien David is just 21 months-old. Like Adam, Sebastien was born in Canada but already he's been targeted at domestic airports five times. Khan, who lives with his family in London, Ont., says at first he thought it was funny, but the humour is rapidly fading. "You still feel stigmatized," said to us.

The toddlers' parents say they were told their son's name matches that of an adult on a government no-fly list. Regardless, Khan wants the ordeal to end. "I'm so glad our son is too young to know what's going on. He's Canadian through and through, but this will make him feel like an outsider."

Canadians were deservedly proud when international media gushed at the collective embrace Syrian refugees received from ordinary Canadians and political leaders alike upon their arrival at the end of last year. The country told these refugees: You are welcome; you are one of us now.

When we uphold that spirit of inclusion, Canada thrives as a multicultural nation where others fail.

Canada can improve the effectiveness of the list by adding biometric data, so children aren't penalized for having the same name as a terror suspect. And we can follow the U.S. example, ensuring there is an easy way for parents to get resolution when mistaken identities happen.

We believe an inclusive society can be as powerful a force for national security as any no-fly list.

Brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger founded a platform for social change that includes the international charity, Free The Children, the social enterprise, Me to We, and the youth empowerment movement, We Day. Visit for more information.

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