Sunday, January 14, 2007

No Fly Zone

It's time for civil libertarians to scare the public with the threat of the all-encompassing police state reaching out for them. If not with a knock on the door in the middle of the night, then with a tap on the shoulder at the local airport:

Soon, this could happen to you: You're flying to another Canadian city and despite a confirmed reservation, the airport kiosk won't print your boarding pass.

You wait while an agent checks something in her computer. She disappears to make a call to a Transport Canada hotline. When she returns, you learn Transport Canada has refused you permission to board. Police might even appear and take you into custody.

You've just found out the hard way that your name is on Canada's new "specified persons list" better known as the no-fly list.

Until now, there has been no official list prohibiting people from flying into or within Canada.

That will soon change. The no-fly list, a key part of a program known as Passenger Protect, was announced in 2005 by the former Liberal government. Regulations were published in the Canada Gazette last October and the 75-day period for public comment expired this week. The program will come into force after Transport Canada publishes final regulations in March.

The no-fly list's imminent introduction has raised numerous concerns, ranging from its impact on privacy, civil liberties and constitutionally guaranteed mobility rights to fears it will disproportionately target Muslims and further entrench security integration with the Americans.

To go along with the quasi-criminal offence of "driving while black," we will now have the quasi-criminal offence of "flying while Muslim." The press will be filled with stories of ordinary Moes hauled off in handcuffs, kept from visiting their mothers' deathbeds in Syria because they share a name with some Hezbollah operative.

Alan Borovoy and Mohammed Elmasry will hold press conferences to denounce this latest anti-freedom, anti-Muslim initiative of the Republican lapdog government in Ottawa.

Of course, we will never hear of the rationale for screening certain people ever again after this:

Using intelligence provided by the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, an advisory group led by Transport Canada will assess individuals who may pose an immediate threat to aviation safety.

After reviewing the intelligence, the advisory group, which includes senior officers from CSIS and the RCMP, will make recommendations to the minister of transport, infrastructure and communities about whom to include on the no-fly list.

According to published guidelines, candidates fall into three categories:

- Those who are or have been involved in a terrorist group;

- Those who have been convicted of serious, life-threatening crimes against aviation security;

- And those who have been convicted of serious offences and who "may attack or harm an air carrier, passengers or crew members."

So you've got to have a pretty nasty background in the first place to be grounded. A fact that will never be mentioned in the hysterical media reports to come, except with plenty of ironic "quotes".

What is the likelihood that your name is on the list?

And given the generally porous state of law enforcement information handling, even if it should be, quite possibly it isn't.



Greg said...

So you've got to have a pretty nasty background in the first place to be grounded.

Nasty background, eh? Someone like Maher Arar for example?

Mark Dowling said...

We don't need a no-fly list. We need the kind of security that El-Al provides. But we won't do that so a buggy database will suffice instead.