Too Guilty To Fly, Too Innocent To Charge?

By Faisal Kutty, published on countercurrents.org, March 20, 2007

As Transport Canada forges ahead with its cleverly named Passenger Protect Program, the timing could not be better to seriously reconsider what is for all intents and purposes a no-fly list.

The attention to the issue of watch lists generated by the struggles of Maher Arar to clear his name should make us all sit back and reflect. There are many lessons to be learned from our government’s apology and financial settlement with Maher Arar for its role in his “extraordinary rendition” to Syria for torture.

The attention to the issue of watch lists generated by the struggles of Maher Arar (the Canadian citizen detained by Americans and shipped off to torture and interrogation in Syria) to clear his name should make us all sit back and reflect. There are many lessons to be learned from the Canadian government’s recent apology and financial settlement with Arar for its role in his “extraordinary rendition.”

One of these lessons is that hasty and ill considered national security initiatives which are essentially aimed at managing perceptions more than they are in really addressing legitimate and manageable security concerns are not harmless. In fact, they cause disproportionate harm in return for very minor gains in terms of intelligence and law enforcement. The innocent and unintended victims of such initiatives are real human beings with lives, rights and dignity. When not properly designed to address the negative impacts such initiatives can significantly disrupt and even destroy lives.

Another lesson from the Arar saga is that religious and racial profiling, no matter how vigorously it is denied, is too often the reality for a growing number in Canada’s Muslim and Arab communities at least in the national security context. In fact, this was confirmed by none other than the Department of Justice in a report leaked a couple of years ago.

A number of other men of Muslim/Arab heritage have made similar allegations as Arar. Three of them will get their own less comprehensive inquiries. One of the common denominators of each of their stories is the fact that they were placed on one kind of watch list or the other.

The proliferation of government watch lists is a troubling development in the “war on terrorism.” The challenges of such lists include differences of opinion on who’s actually a security threat, consolidating information across agencies by making the computer systems communicate the with one another. In fact, Canada’s Auditor General Sheila Fraser found in 2004 that watch-lists used to screen visa applicants, refugee claimants and travelers seeking to enter Canada were in disarray because of inaccuracies and shoddy updating.

And now we have another list to worry about … (full text).

(Faisal Kutty is a Toronto lawyer, writer and doctoral candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School of York University. He serves as vice chair and counsel to the Canadian Council on American Islamic Relations and filed submissions against the Canadian no-fly list on behalf of more than two dozen organizations from across the country. The submission entitled “Canada’s Passenger Protect Program: Too Guilty to Fly, Too Innocent to Charge?” is available at www.caircan.ca. His articles are archived at iviews.com).

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