Hundreds of air travellers using special code to avoid Canadian no fly list snags
By Jim Bronskill
OTTAWA — More than 850 people have been assigned a special number to help avoid being inadvertently ensnared by Canada’s no-fly list.
A dozen of these travellers have been cleared to board an aircraft as a direct result of having the personal code since the program began in November 2020, says Public Safety Canada.
The department has touted rollout of the Canadian Travel Number as a key step in revamping passenger screening procedures after many young children were stopped at airports because their names are the same as, or close to, ones on the no-fly roster.
Passengers who have experienced difficulties can apply for a travel number via the Public Safety website to help avoid false matches when booking flights to, from or within Canada.
The government requires air carriers to send a passenger’s name and date of birth as early as 72 hours before a flight so that their identity can be verified and any false name match can be resolved in advance.
The government is now responsible for screening passengers against the Secure Air Travel Act watchlist, commonly known as the no-fly list.
Federal officials inform the air carrier should there be any additional screening requirements or an outright prohibition on allowing the person to fly.
Upon introducing the system, the government said it would improve the security of air travel and protect passenger privacy since airlines, which long used the no-fly list for screening, would no longer have direct access to it.
Together, the travel number and centralized screening limit “any potential unconscious bias associated with human screening and inconsistent screening methods while enhancing fairness for legitimate air travellers,” Public Safety spokesman Nic Defalco said in response to questions from The Canadian Press.
As of Jan. 20, more than 1,200 Canadian Travel Number applications had been received and 859 issued, Public Safety said.
The majority of people who asked for a number were between the ages of 31 and 60. Just six per cent of applications were for children. About 70 per cent of applicants identified as male and the same percentage were Canadian citizens.
Centralized screening has helped resolve most false matches to names on the no-fly roster without use of a Canadian Travel Number, Defalco said.
“So far, 12 passengers have been cleared with the use of a CTN, which means these individuals benefited from having a CTN as an additional piece of information to help verify their identity. Additionally, there were no false name matches for children under the age of 16.”
The travel number and screening changes came after several families with young children raised concerns about nerve-racking airport delays because their child’s name appeared to match one on the no-fly list.
Khadija Cajee, co-founder of No Fly List Kids, said while she is aware of some people applying for the new travel number, the fact many families have not been flying during the COVID-19 pandemic means it is difficult to tell how the system is working.
Cajee’s young son Adam has repeatedly faced snags checking in for a flight, but she has not yet applied for a travel number on his behalf. She is waiting to see if the centralized screening changes alone will remedy the problem.
“I’m still really curious to know if he can get by without actually having to apply for the number to begin with,” Cajee said. “If it comes to the point where he’ll have to apply for it, then we’ll do it for him.”
Cajee said while the system revamp is welcome, she has come to believe Canada’s no-fly list should simply be abolished.
“When you have a list, that list always targets somebody. And inevitably there are going to be a lot of innocent people targeted on this list,” said Cajee, a member of the federally appointed National Security Transparency Advisory Group, which counsels agencies on implementing their openness commitments.
“I think what the government is saying is that this individual is too dangerous to fly, but not too dangerous to roam our streets.”
Sarah Willson, whose husband and son have experienced airport delays, said her family is also waiting to see how their next flights go before applying for travel numbers.
The government has cautioned that a travel number will not prevent delays if the airport problem is related to a different program, such as another country’s security list.
Willson, who is also active with No Fly List Kids, said the group has asked Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino for data related to the various other activities at airports such as pre-flight security screening and secondary customs inspections.
“There’s a whole bunch of reasons why people are getting flagged.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2022.
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