Help is on the way for people erroneously flagged as security threats on the “no-fly list,” Public Safety Minister Bill Blair announced Wednesday.
The minister said he hopes to have a new system for individuals who have names similar to those of genuine terror threats in place later this month — and up and running in time for the holiday travel season.
“It wasn’t just an inconvenience. It was very traumatic for those families, and I think it’s concerning to the kids,” Blair said in an interview with CBC News.
“It was the right thing to do, and we’ve been working through it.”
Canada’s no-fly list — formally known as the Passenger Protection Program or the Secure Air Travel Act — dates back to 2007 and is meant to stop potential security threats from boarding commercial planes.
The old system was built on names rather than unique identifiers, such as dates of birth or passport numbers. As a result, some Canadians — including young children — have been mistakenly flagged by the system because their names match, or are similar to, the names of real security threats.
For years, the families affected by the system and the advocacy organization they formed to respond to it, the No-Fly List Kids, have lobbied the government to fix the problem — arguing the experience of being barred from boarding a commercial aircraft is traumatizing.
The final provisions of the Secure Air Travel Regulations came into effect on Wednesday, transferring the responsibility for screening travellers against the list away from air carriers and to the federal government. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the regulations in the House of Commons on Wednesday.
In the coming days, certain travellers will be able to apply for a “Canadian Travel Number” – a unique number they can use when they book air travel to distinguish them from those on the list, says a media release from Blair’s office.
Application launching within 2 weeks
The release said the application is scheduled to launch online within two weeks and will allow travellers to apply before air carriers start to transfer to the new centralized screening system beginning in late November.
When asked why it’s taken so long to fix the issue, the minister said it took both legislative and regulatory changes to get to today.
“It was also necessary to develop and test and implement some pretty complex IT systems,” Blair said.
Public Safety said new regulations will also allow the government to screen travellers against the list before they arrive at the airport for their flight — up to 72 hours before takeoff — to prevent delays at check-in.
“It will be a central database managed by the government rather than data that’s handed over to the airlines,” Blair said.
“That really does, in my opinion, improve its utility in maintaining a secure and safe environment on the airlines. We’re able to make more information available in that.”
Government officials have not confirmed how many people are on Canada’s no-fly list, arguing the information could help terrorists plot a catastrophic attack on an airliner.
In the 2018 budget, the Liberal government pledged more than $80 million over five years, and $14 million annually afterwards, to build the new centralized screening system.
Canada’s updated national security legislation, previously known as Bill C-59, gave the department the authority to create the new system. It was passed in June 2019.