Wednesday, November 18, 2009

There ain't no-flys on me


For the gentle folks who wondered if I was overreacting by suing for a retraction recently, this news:

Transport Canada maintains its own no-fly list. The people in charge of your fate consist of a troika of representatives from CSIS, the RCMP and Transport Canada, and a Deputy Minister who was, at least until last February, "signing [recommendations] in a completely blind fashion." Decisions are not subject to appeal.

Once again, as in the case of a woman found guilty by a bank teller of depositing a small cheque, the swarthy are at special risk. Consider the case of Canadian author and playwright Jaspreet Singh, who was subject to lengthy and intimidating interrogations by airport security officials to the point that he had to cancel out of attending two literary festivals.

Ever-helpful Air Canada staff suggested that he change his name. Don't laugh. Some folks actually end up doing just that. See the security problem here?

It took a lot of personal lobbying on Singh's part, and an outcry in the artistic community, to get airport security off his back. It seems that a "J. Singh" was included in the Transport Canada list. To get an idea of just how mind-numbingly stupid this is, check your telephone book. "Singh" is a more common surname among Sikhs than "Smith" is for anglos. The Ottawa telephone directory alone lists no fewer than ten "J. Singh"s.

This sort of onomastic racial profiling, not surprisingly, is common south of the border, whence our own securibots seem to get all their ideas.

A full report from the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group on the operation of the Transport Canada no-fly list will be issued in three weeks. I can hardly wait.

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