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Balancing freedom and safety

Ottawa is preparing its own version of no-fly lists.The federal project is called Passenger Protect.

Ottawa is preparing its own version of no-fly lists.

The federal project is called Passenger Protect. It was released with little fanfare last October by federal Transportation Minister Lawrence Cannon.

Here’s the twist: the no-fly list will target passengers on domestic Canadian flights. The nation’s police and spy agencies already screen international flights.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the RCMP will use the new domestic database to determine who is barred from flying in Canadian airspace.

The list is scheduled to be in operation later this year. Initial estimates peg the cost at $250 million.

Bringing it in on budget is going to be tricky.

A federal consultant said Ottawa will have to spend an awful lot of money cleaning up mistakes on the list, and ensuring those who erroneously wind up on it can still fly.

How difficult will compiling this clean list be?

Canadians would do well to remember how Ottawa’s gun registry turned out.

(Of course, people aren’t likely to get as angry about winding up on a federal watch list as they were about voluntarily registering their firearms. It’s less concrete, though, arguably, a greater transfer of power to the state.)

According to a federal backgrounder, people will be added to the list by an advisory group made up of a representative of CSIS, the RCMP and some other federal reps, as required.

The lists will cross reference criminal and intelligence data.

As of today, officials suggest it could access 34 categories of information. Federal officials with access to the database would know a traveller’s personal information, their itinerary and even who paid for their ticket.

The federal backgrounder suggests people will be placed on the list if they are suspected of being a terrorist and there’s a reasonable chance they pose a risk to the aircraft, airport, passengers and crew.

Also, anyone convicted of serious crimes against aviation security or “other serious and life-threatening offences.”

As part of the system, every Canadian citizen will have to carry government-issued ID.

If you wind up on the list, there will be a non-judicial, efficient appeal process.

But, after reviewing the law, some privacy groups have serious concerns with it.

The very existence of such a broad no-fly list for Canadian airspace has implications for travel within this very large country.

“Moving it to domestic airlines is a huge expansion from what is normally a border-control issue,” Mary O’Donoghue, senior counsel for Ontario’s Privacy Commission, told the Globe and Mail on Wednesday.

“Are we going to set controls for movement within the country? Flying has to be an everyday right and need.

“It has a huge impact. What you’re dealing with is a list. Once people are on lists, mistakes can be made.”

Ontario’s privacy office has made 27 recommendations to amend the proposed legislation.

Those recommendations (found at suggest Ottawa’s no-fly list is far broader and more invasive than the federal backgrounder suggests.

For example, privacy experts reveal the list flags people wanted on a domestic warrant —regardless of whether they pose a threat to air travellers.

That suggests it effectively deputizes airport authorities, allowing them arrest common criminals on behalf of the state’s police.

As a result, Ontario’s privacy office recommends the bill should be amended to ensure people are only barred from flying based on reasonable grounds they are involved in planning travel-related terrorism.

And Ontario’s privacy office is not the only one concerned about the new legislation.

The federal privacy commissioner’s office also suggests the legislation is too broad.

Measures like this represent a slippery slope, Florence Nguyen, a federal privacy commission spokesperson, told the Globe.

Of course, this is true.

But, with officials warning that every shoe and mascara case is a potential bomb, people are beginning to understand terror.

Society is getting jittery.

There’s widespread belief the bad guys have too much power.

And so it’s getting easier for government to assume extraordinary powers, to erode hard-won freedom is in the name of public safety.

Besides, if people are honest and obey the law there’s no need to fear a government watch list.

After all, the Maher Arar case was just a rare mistake. (RM)