OTTAWA — The U.S. no-fly list, not Canada's secret air-security roster, might be what has been ensnaring Canadian youngsters, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale is telling several families experiencing travel headaches.
In a letter to a representative of dozens of families whose children have trouble boarding airplanes, Goodale says delays can occur for passengers who have the same name as a person on Canada's list, or "another security-related list such as the U.S. no-fly list."
The reply to Khadija Cajee, whose six-year-old son Adam has been repeatedly delayed at the airport, underscores the complex — and often hidden — web of security measures intended to keep North American skies safe.
Goodale promised to investigate after Adam's father, Sulemaan Ahmed, tweeted a photo from Toronto's international airport that appeared to show the boy's name with a "deemed high profile" label and instructions on how to proceed before allowing the youngster to check in.
They were trying to board an Air Canada flight Dec. 31 to Boston to see the NHL Winter Classic.
Soon after, Goodale said his officials had reminded airlines they don't need to screen children against Canada's no-fly list, officially known as the Passenger Protect Program.
Goodale's department is also exploring possible changes to the Secure Air Travel Regulations that would help identify those who have similar or the same names as people on the no-fly list, but are not the intended targets.
In addition, Goodale indicated the Passenger Protect Program would be examined during broad public consultations on Canada's overall security framework.
People with similar stories of airport snags began contacting Cajee, of Markham, Ont. She then put questions to Goodale on behalf of 21 families with Canadian-born children ranging in age from six months to 17 years. Several others who spoke with Cajee were wary of attaching their names to the letter.
An Air Canada agent told Sulemaan Ahmed, of Markham, Ont. that his 6-year-old son's name is on the airline's "deemed high profile" no-fly list. (Courtesy of Sulemaan Ahmed)
In his reply, which Cajee shared with The Canadian Press, Goodale says there are "many reasons" people might experience delays or be prohibited from boarding a flight.
"For example, other countries, as well as airlines, maintain various security-related lists with different criteria and thresholds, which may result in delays for individuals travelling to, from, or even within Canada," Goodale writes.
"Delays may occur for passengers who have the same name as a person listed under the (Passenger Protect Program), or another security-related list such as the U.S. no-fly list."
Goodale suggests these travellers might want to contact the airline's customer service representative to explain their situation and to see what steps can be taken before arriving at the airport. "Furthermore, if you suspect you are on another country's list, it is recommended that you explore their specific recourse mechanisms."
"It boggles the mind that a potentially guilty person who is denied boarding can access a Canadian redress process but a six-year-old child cannot."
Cajee says she is pursuing the U.S. government's redress process on behalf of Adam.
And while she appreciates the minister's response, Cajee says there should be a better Canadian recourse system. The existing one applies only to those explicitly forbidden from getting on a plane due to the Passenger Protect Program.
"Currently, as a Canadian, I have access to a U.S.-based redress process but as a Canadian I do not have access to a Canadian redress process unless I have been denied boarding," she said.
"Our children have never been denied boarding because they are, well, children and obviously innocent. It boggles the mind that a potentially guilty person who is denied boarding can access a Canadian redress process but a six-year-old child cannot."
Cajee also takes issue with the assertion the problem might be a foreign-security issue.
"I still have not received an answer to a very basic question: Who creates and maintains the DHP list? It is a fairly straightforward question."