Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Canada "no-fly" list: An epic in several parts.

Over here, there's a discussion of what it would take for Canada to implement its own "no-fly" list which claims to single out two "key" questions:

  • Who will assemble the list? A government agency, a judge, the police, an independent third party?

  • What criteria will be used to place people's names on the list? That is, how will "terrorism" and "suspicion" be defined?

Um ... no. With all due respect (and, coming from me, I'm sure you know exactly what that's worth), I submit that there are several other questions that are at least as critical and since each of them is a discussion in its own right, I'm going to address them one post at a time, possibly without the use of tedious run-on sentences like this one. And so, without further ado, the first question that will need answering:

Will Canadian citizens have the right to ask whether they're on the list?

As those of you who have followed the "no-fly" list debacle in the U.S. will have noticed, the shit doesn't typically hit the fan until some poor bastard is at the airport, luggage checked, standing in line at the gate, and is then told by the gate agent that, whoops, there's a problem, sorry, sir, but you can't board this flight, your name is on the "list," no, I'm sorry, I have no idea how it got there but we're just following instructions, please loosen your belt and bend over.

Now this sort of thing would be not only thoroughly annoying but potentially costly as said suspect might have recently paid hundreds of dollars for a non-refundable ticket, rearranged his schedule and booked his vacation time off of work, only to now be told that he's been thoroughly fucked just minutes before getting on his plane.

One would think that, to avoid madness like this, Canadian citizens should have the right, at any time, to ask some official government agency if they're on the list or, at the very least, when they're booking their travel, to have the airline representative tell them at that time that there's a problem. (That this should be possible is not even open for debate -- if they can do it when you get to the airport, they can certainly do it while they're taking your reservation over the phone.)

It would be hard to argue that giving out that information constitutes a security breach of any kind since, if you're on the list, you'll obviously have to be told when you try to board a plane. So that's question number one -- will Canadian citizens be entitled to know if they're on the list?

Coming up in part 2: When is "Mr. Smith" not really "Mr. Smith"?


The American Anthropologist said...

I think the real important question(s) is(are) "Can you know why you are on the list, and can you challenge this?"
or is the list the word of god (or his worldly leaders appointed through his providence)

It would be a real interesting legal battle if Canada decides to honour constitutional rights, but starts adding people based on america's say so.

CC said...


You're right, I should have added that as an issue here -- whether Canadian citizens have not only the right to know if they're on the list, but why. Good catch.

Whether you can challenge this (and how) will be in a later installment.

Anonymous said...

Actually, there are questions that should come well before the ones you're frisking (even asking those two questions seems to take it forgranted there should BE a list).
For example:
"Is there any proof that such a list will increase flying safety?" If Mr. Max Badguy is bright enough to smuggle weapons onto a plane, surely he's bright enough to get fake ID in a unflagged name. So logically, you need to be searching everyone throughly, regardless of their supposed name, which would render the list redundant.
"If you've got enough evidence to put someone on the list, why haven't you got enough evidence to arrest'em?" We don't (yet) let the government brand folks with a Scarlet letter that prevents them from taking the bus, getting a job, driving, etc. on the basis of assertions that haven't met the standards of due process. We tell the authorities to "Put up or shut up." with regard to depriving people of their liberity. Same approach and onus should apply to the right to fly.

CC said...

Oh, there's a pile of questions one might ask -- I'm just picking on a few of them that I think haven't been thought through very well.

Anonymous said...

This fellow has some experience in the area:

Stopped on an in-Canada flight two years ago because his name turned up on a list. No answers as to how or why. He is a Pakistani-born cartoonist whose work has been critical of the US.