Friday, June 22, 2007

No-fly list should be the last straw for Canadians concerned about their rights

The no-fly list should mark a turning point, the time when Canadians push back at increasingly intrusive - and dubious - security measures.
"Passenger Protect" is under way in Canada. Every time you go to take a flight, the airline will check your name against a secret list compiled by the Transportation Department.
If your name is on the list, you'll be barred from flying. (Or if someone with the same name is on the list.)
You can't find out if you're on the list. That's a secret. It's also a secret how many people are suspects. The government says between 500 and 2,000 so far. The number is growing.
And there's no set criteria - no requirement that people on the list have committed crimes; no need for evidence; no independent review.
And no chance to clear your name, because you never know you've been blacklisted.
The Transportation Department consults CSIS and the RCMP to see who should be listed. Names are proposed and added to the list, which is available to all airlines operating in Canada.
The government says it also might be shared with other nations and their security agencies. Bad luck for someone who - like Maher Arar - ends up in Syria or some other country, pegged as a potential terrorist based on bad information, or a confused informant.
The government insists that only people who are serious threats will go on the list.
But if these people are so dangerous, why are we only restricting their ability to fly? Aren't they being watched? And wouldn't people who are real threats have already considered the possibility that they might be on the list, and instead send someone else on a flight?
In fact, if you plan to attack an airplane, wouldn't it make sense to book a trial flight first, to see if the government is on to you?
Of course, the most dangerous people won't likely be on the list. They aren't in the U.S., because security officials think that would make it too easy for potential terrorists to check on whether they have been detected. They just have to try to take a flight; if they're turned away, they can go underground.
The no-fly list in its present form, even if it were useful, would be unacceptable.
But it's not useful. The only person who could be caught would be a sloppy, stupid and lazy potential attacker. The kind of person who would be caught anyway.
For that tiny, illusory promise of increased safety, Canadians are being asked to give up our basic rights and freedoms.
We're presumed innocent in this country. If the state has concerns about our actions, it can certainly keep files on us.
But when it wants to interfere with a citizen's life, the state has to show evidence and give the accused a chance to respond.
That most basic protection is being sacrificed. Based on a secret accusation - a mistake, malicious charges by an enemy, misidentification - people will be denied the right to fly and put at risk of arrest in some other country.
There is an appeal. But your name could be on a list today and you wouldn't know it. You might find out on the day you try to fly to your daughter's wedding and are turned away.
Since 9/11 most of the things that have made our lives worse have come from our governments' response to terror threats, not from external enemies. From the small, like the increased difficulty in travelling; to the dramatic, like our troops involvement in the Afghan war.
We've tolerated the changes, hopeful they were needed to keep us safe.
But it's time to stop. When our government proposes to create lists of enemies and deny them the right to travel - and in the process accomplish little in terms of real safety - things have gone too far.
Footnote: Why do we have a no-fly list? Because it will please the U.S., the only other country with a similar program. It will give the illusion of increased safety. And because security forces always want to compile lists of suspect people and find ways to use them. It is the politicians who are supposed to guard citizens' rights.


Anonymous said...

Two countries in the world have lists so we to keep some USA government folks happy fall right into it. So far two MP's have found themselves on the US list. Who made up the list one might ask, but we won't be told. should do little for security and lots to screw up trade. The mind boggles!!!

Anonymous said...

PW wrote: "The no-fly list should mark a turning point, the time when Canadians push back at increasingly intrusive - and dubious - security measures."

It is nice to know that there are still a few optimists around.

Al said...

Great post! I know it's been up here for a while already, but I came across it in a google blog search. Since writing 'The Murder of Maher Arar' a number of months ago, I've felt compelled to check in on occasion to see whether his name continues to ring out on the blogs.

I'm really an admirer of this kind of work being done...I'm going to link to this site on deadissue and hope that you might do the same.

Peace, Love and Acceleration

Al said...

I wanted to revisit this post, as in reading it over again (my comment), it is kind of rude of me to come off as so overly self-promoting. Honestly, I've been trying in my spare time to visit more blogs that focus on the types of issues you're writing about here, and primarily to get in touch with more Canadians. I've got a video up on my site called 'Let Them Stay - US War Resisters in Canada', and it has made me rethink what it is about the USA that keeps me from leaving.

The values of your country are more my cup of tea. Though is it a sign of some sort of character flaw to run away from a problem?

The 'no fly' list is offensive to Canadians, yet here in the USA we aren't even compelled by the story of Maher Arar...

Anyways - I hope we can exchange links and I look forward to reading your words in the future. Peace -

Anonymous said...

We're flying tomorrow - a big trip we've been planning for two years and the whole family will need to pass both Canada's and the US No Fly lists to get there.

I'm more than a little anxious and I think your article is right on - thank you.