No-fly listing flies against Human Rights

Western nations have struggled long and hard to establish a set of universal human rights. But today’s governments, including our own, have made the historic mistake of imposing policies that are in clear violation of those rights.

One of those rights is the guarantee of a person’s freedom of movement — unless, of course, this right is restricted by a court of justice after due process, including a fair trial and time to defend. Only police states do otherwise: a tyrant regime will routinely blacklist any citizen without judicial oversight.

But the U.S. "war on terror" has now turned into a war on human rights and civil liberties, with Canada following on its coat-tails. And this is wrong. Take the example of arbitrary no-fly listing.

Although Canada does not yet have its own officially confirmed no-fly list, it is all too rapidly developing one and airlines currently operating in Canadian air space, including Air Canada, use those compiled by the U.S. and other foreign countries.

Just days after the Canadian Islamic Congress posted an urgent request that Canadian Muslims report if any of their community members had been placed on a no-fly list, the organization received a startling letter from a Canadian professor of medicine.

"I am not Muslim," the writer stated, "but I support your efforts to bring this [the no-fly list issue] to the public’s attention. While I am confident that Muslim citizens are disproportionately represented on this list, I too have been placed on this list with no information as to what I am accused of and by whom."

"They refuse to disclose how I got onto the list or how to get my name removed. The Air Canada ticket agent talks behind my back to some nameless individual on the phone asking me personal information, all in a public space. This is humiliating and degrading. It is intolerable in a self-professed democratic society that claims to protect the rights of its citizens."

"We [all Canadians] need to stand together shoulder to shoulder to fight intolerance and injustice in society wherever and whenever we see it," said the professor, whose identity is being protected, pending legal action.

No-fly listing would impair a person’s right to travel and could cause financial damage, as well as the loss of their business or personal reputation in the world, not only in Canada.

If any Canadian is placed on the list mistakenly, or on the basis of wrong information, he or she would still be viewed by his/her employer, the media, and/or general public as a potential terrorist, resulting in irreparable harm.

No-fly listing amounts to the same as black-listing, and with tragic consequences. Take, for example, this Canadian incident that shows how black-listing (unrelated to the no-fly issue) can destroy a person’s life.

A student wrote an assignment about child abuse and attached an appendix containing the anonymous first-person account of a sexual abuser, taken from one of the textbooks used to research the paper. But the teacher mistakenly thought the appended story was the student’s own work and contacted Child Protection Services. For the next two years, the student was viewed as a potential sexual abuser, her name was bandied around by the professors, and she was refused entry to certain programs. For years beyond school, the label still hung over her; she had difficulty getting work and, ironically, she wanted to help abused children.

The devastating long-term effects of such prejudicial errors now threaten Canadians mistakenly targeted by no-fly lists. It is the responsibility of the federal transportation minister and our government to protect citizens against abuse by foreign states, not to facilitate that abuse by emulating them. The issue here is not only a matter of basic human rights, but also of economic discrimination, for many Canadians depend on air travel to make a living.

Only six months ago, a Canadian Muslim family discovered that one of their children — an infant less than one year old — had been placed on a no-fly list.

In a letter to federal transportation minister Jean Lapierre in August, the Canadian Islamic Congress questioned the legality of creating the so called no-fly list, which it said goes against the spirit and letter of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The CIC also told minister Lapierre that "Canadian Muslims are understandably nervous" about the new measures, which copy those inaugurated by the U.S Homeland Security agency.

Key concerns voiced by the organization include:

How (or if) Canadians will be notified that their names are on any no-fly list; if there are procedures to ensure names could be removed from such a list; how long the personal information of Canadians placed on no-fly lists would be retained; who decides that a person’s name is to be placed on a no-fly list; whether being on a no-fly list in one country (such as Canada) would lead automatically to being placed on similar lists in some, or all, other countries; which foreign no-fly lists would Canada acknowledge as legitimate; what opportunities would an individual have to submit information or evidence to satisfy Canadian security and transportation authorities that he / she should not be on the no-fly list.

Canadians must "stand together shoulder to shoulder to fight intolerance and injustice in society" as the recent non-Muslim victim of no-fly listing in Canada wrote above. Hopefully, this will happen before more Canadians are victimized by our elected government.