03/16/2016 02:56 EDT | Updated 03/17/2017 05:12 EDT

Information Sharing And The No-Fly List: The Elephant In The Room


Canada and the U.S. have been talking about the perimeter security for many years. In February 2011, both countries officially launched a joint report called Beyond the Border: A Shared Vision for Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness. Under the plan, the two countries would further integrate their border security, law enforcement and counter-terrorism operations, conduct joint investigations to target security threats, and jointly determine what constitutes a threat to begin with.

The agreement includes a plan to share biographical information on citizens, permanent residents and others when they enter one country and thereby exit the other.

In May 2013, Canada Border Services Agency and the Department of Homeland security released a joint report about their first phase in implementing their Entry/Exit information system. The program included sharing biographic information -- name, date of birth and gender of visa applicants and asylum claimants. Biometric information, such as photos and fingerprints of select visa applicants was implemented later and is by now a daily practice at the borders.

It is expected that by 2018-2019 the screening procedure would be expanded to include about 150 more countries

According to both countries, the main reason behind the creation of such an Entry/Exit information system for tracking individuals crossing the borders was to help stem the flow of foreign fighters to conflicts in the Middle East. Last week, we heard from Michel Coulombe the director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) when he testified in front of a Senate national security committee, that about ''180 individuals 'with a nexus to Canada'" are fighting with terrorist groups overseas.

His American colleague, FBI Director, James Comey, said last July in a written testimony given during a U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee hearing that "more than 200 Americans have traveled or attempted to travel to Syria to participate in the conflict." Not only do the numbers on both side of the borders not justify this mammoth program, but also to our knowledge, no one so far has crossed the U.S.-Canada border to commit a terrorist attack in the U.S. or Canada or vice versa. So it is unclear to us how the information sharing of the Beyond the Border plan is linked to the issue of foreign fighters joining or attempting to join the ranks of ISIS in the Middle East.

However, what seems clearer and more obvious for us is that the exchange of the "No-Fly" lists that occurs between the two countries since its creation in Canada in 2007, and that brought to us the sad cases of Syed Adam Ahmed and other children, seems to be a direct fallout of this mega information sharing plan that so far has been pushed forward by the governments of both countries.

So when it was announced last week with big fanfare during the visit of Prime Minister Trudeau to President Obama in Washington that both countries plan to create within 60 days, a Redress Working Group to help resolve the false positive cases generated by the "No-Fly" list, it was not an indication that both countries are revamping their huge information sharing system but rather a proof that the sharing of information will continue ahead at a bigger scale and with more sophistication and with of course "some bumps" on the way.

When the cases of the kids affected by the No-Fly list came to the public eyes in the early of 2016, no government officials explained the situation as part of the information exchange program consequences. Public Safety Ralph Goodale first deflated the pressure by promising that the air carriers will be notified that security screening validation is not required for individuals under 18. He also committed to public consultations about the "No-Fly list." Later, the same minister encouraged some parents to check with the Homeland Security department in order to remove their kids from any list. And finally when the public pressure didn't dissipate, Air Canada came out publicly encouraging the parents to apply for an Aeroplan card as a way for the kids to avoid security screening.

So were all these attempts made to calm the pressure and buy some time, or was the Canadian government waiting meanwhile for the green light from their American partners to make an announcement about the redress issue? Maybe Mr. Ralph Goodale can tell us!

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