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Shahid Mahmood Headshot

What is Your Kafka Plan Frequent Flyer Number?

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When entering Chile, disembarking at the Arturo Merino Benítez International Airport two months ago, I was separated from my family and taken away by Interpol. I was questioned, fingerprinted, and photographed for over an hour. Between questioning, I excused myself to use the washroom. While scrubbing the black ink off my fingers, I noticed with some amusement two urinals that had been installed upside-down.

Marcel Duchamp, the French artist whose work challenged conventionality, was most often associated with subversive artwork such as turning a urinal upside-down and labeling it a fountain. He is also known for drawing a mustache on the Mona Lisa with the title L.H.O.O.Q. -- when pronounced in French, "elle a chaud au cul" -- "she is hot in the arse." Duchamp forced the observer to view ordinary objects from a new perspective. His mustachioed Mona Lisa defaced that which is valued.

What the mustachioed Mona Lisa is to the pristine original, Canada's Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews is to the humanist ideals enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Toews has, in fact, publically dismissed the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a philosophy modeled on the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, by declining an invitation to speak at an event marking the Charter's 25th anniversary in 2007.

In 2011, Toews appeared before a government committee to support Bill C-42 -- a controversial amendment to the Aeronautics Act. Bill C-42 would insist that Canadian airlines provide passenger manifests to American authorities. At the proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications on March 10, Toews was asked by Senator Don Meredith: "How will we protect Canadians that [sic] are flying into the United States? How are they notified, and how do they clear their name?"

Toews responded, "The Canadian government could not set up a mechanism to assist a Canadian citizen in clearing his or her name. Other than the general assistance that is provided through consular services or through your member of parliament or your senator, there is no system."

He goes on to quip: "In your case, Senator, I would make my cell phone available to you."

The average Canadian does not have access to cell-phone numbers of high-ranking officials. Unlike their Canadian counterparts, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security offers a Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (DHS TRIP) providing US citizens a single point of contact -- a phone number -- for any American seeking resolution for difficulties experienced at airport security screenings.

Canadians, in comparison, are told under the Passenger Protect Program, that Public Safety Canada will only determine whether individuals pose a threat to aviation security. Only those Canadians who have received an emergency directive at the time of screening may apply to the Office of Reconsideration for a review.

From my experience, I can assure you that airport personal will never provide Emergency Directives. Public Safety Canada also directs individuals denied boarding to file complaints with any of the following organizations: The Security Intelligence Review Committee; The Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP; Canadian Human Rights Commission; and the Federal Courts. Toews should note I have systematically approached these organizations, when disallowed from boarding an Air Canada flight over eight years -- all to no avail.

People whose names show up on No-Fly or Selectee Lists have no recourse in Canada. Air Canada settled with me at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in 2010. The settlement package ensured Air Canada remedy systemic problems within a seriously flawed aviation security system. This was a first in Canada. The airline could not, however, remove my name from Federal No-Fly or Selectee Lists. My problems have been complicated with this latest Interpol incident -- illustrating the disregard this current Government has shown in protecting the privacy of Canadian citizens.

Senator Nancy Ruth asked Toews during Bill C-42 deliberations at a March 10 committee meeting: "I am curious. What kind of regulation do we have in Canada such that Air Canada cannot transmit information to some other agency within the country?" Toews replied, "If an airline were to transmit such information to anyone without informed consent, the airline would breach our privacy laws. The law in place severely restricts the ability of airlines to share that information for any purpose other than a purpose specifically authorized by the passenger."

What Toews failed to communicate was that the Air Transport Association of Canada (ATAC) was actually pushing to merge Canada's Passenger Protect Program with the American Secure Flight Program. This new merger would match all watch list data into a single North American database. The Canadian government would actually share citizen information across the border -- disregarding Canadian privacy laws and those practices that respect Canadian civil liberties.

Duchamp's title for his Mona Lisa, "She is hot in the arse," implies the woman in the painting is in a state of sexual availability. There is no difference between Duchamp's Mona Lisa and the Canadian Government's shameless pandering to remain Uncle Sam's preferential trading partner. "Canada and the United States have long cooperated on trade and security measures at the border," said Toews. "The Beyond the Border Action Plan demonstrates our shared commitment ...by identifying security threats as early as possible and to facilitate the legitimate flow of goods and travel."

It seems to me the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has been mustachioed and, were it up to Duchamp, re-titled, "hot in the arse."