Feb 16 2011

“British man marooned in Canada because of U.S. no-fly list”

Highlighting what will happen — and already is happening — when other countries follow the bad example of the USA in restricting freedom of movement, the Canadian Press news service reported last night on the situation of, “A British man … stranded in Canada after being denied permission to fly home because he’s on the U.S. no-fly list”:

Dawood Hepplewhite of Sheffield, England, turned up at Pearson Airport in Toronto on Sunday only to be told by an Air Transat official he couldn’t board the plane…

Hepplewhite, 30, divides his time between Sheffield and Toronto, where his Canadian wife Farhia and their three children reside. All five were planning to head back to England for an extended stay.

Hepplewhite says Air Canada and British Airways also refused to let him fly to England on Monday…

Hepplewhite says he’s no security threat, but suspects he is on the no-fly list because he’s a white Muslim and attended a job interview in Yemen — considered a hotbed of terrorism — for a position teaching English a few years ago.

“And when I came back to England I got pulled aside by the police.”

But Hepplewhite abandoned any idea of working in the Middle-Eastern country and has been to Canada several times since that incident.

It’s not clear what will happen next, but, “Hepplewhite’s visa allowing him to stay in Canada expires on April 29.”  If he overstays his visa, Canadian law would provide for him eventually to be deported from Canada to the country of his citizenship, the U.K.  By air. At the expense of the airline that brought him to Canada — the same airline that is now refusing to allow him to use his paid ticket  for just such a flight home before his visa expires.

Who gave the no-fly order? And how did they know Mr. Hepplewhite planned to be on that plane? According to the Canadian Press story:

A bill currently before Parliament would allow airlines to share passenger information required by the U.S. Secure Flight program….

But both Canada and the U.S. say there is no statutory requirement — at least not yet — to provide passenger information for such flights, and Air Canada says it is not doing so….

When asked recently about use of the U.S. list, Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said “we comply with all applicable laws and regulations wherever we operate, and that includes those in the U.S.”

Whatever is happening, it certainly isn’t complying with Canadian law (which requires airlines to operate as common carriers, and protects against arbitrary denial of fundamental rights) or international treaty law by which Canada is bound (which guarantees the right to return to the country of one’s citizenship). And there’s no claim that the U.S. would have had any jurisdiction over Mr. Hepplewhite’s YYZ-LHR flight, since unlike unlike some flights to and from Canada, such as Montreal-Paris flights that sometimes pass over part of Maine, it wouldn’t have passed through U.S. airspace.

So there’s really no question that there was no basis for any valid U.S. no-fly order.

But it’s unclear whether:

  1. The Canadian government (illegally and extrajudicially, in violation of its treaty obligations under Article 12 of the ICCPR) ordered all airlines serving Canada not to transport people with names matching those on the U.S. no-fly list in general, or Mr. Hepplewhite in particular, perhaps without even seeing the evidence, if any, forming the basis for this U.S. request for a Canadian government order; or
  2. The airlines (illegally, in violation of Canada’s basic privacy law, PIPEDA) allowed passenger passenger information to be accessed by the U.S. government, or by CRSs or other intermediaries who did so, and (illegally, in violation of their licenses to operate as common carriers) denied transportation to those the U.S. requested not be transported or (more likely, given the change in the U.S. default to, “No”) those with respect to whom the U.S. didn’t send back an affirmative “Cleared” message.

Which of these happened, and how, is an appropriate question for inquiry both by the Canadian Parliament and by the Privacy Commissioners of Canada and of Ontario.

It might be true, in the narrowest sense, that Air Canada does not directly “provide passenger information” to the U.S. government for flights that don’t touch U.S. airspace. But as the treatment of Mr. Hepplewhite shows, the U.S. government has access to such data, either or both because (a) airlines serving Canada have given the U.S. government “root” access to their reservation systems, not restricted to flights to, from, or overflying the U.S., and/or (b) the U.S. government has similar root access to the Computerized Reservation Systems/Global Distribution Systems (CRSs/GDSs) based in the U.S., to  which most travel agencies and tour operators in Canada outsource (illegally, in flagrant violation of PIPEDA, without notice to or consent of travelers and in the absence of any U.S. privacy law governing CRSs) the storage of their reservations and agency customer/traveler profiles.

We’ve talked about both these problems before, in testimony to both the Canadian and European Parliaments, and they picked up on in a recent letter to the European Commission (see the top of p. 2) from the “Article 29 Working Party” of EU national data protection authorities.  It remains to be seen how they will be dealt with in Canada, and how this will affect other countries’ willingness to join the U.S. war on freedom of travel through PNR and identity-based surveillance and control.

[Update from the Toronto Star: “James Mortimer, a spokesman for the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, England, told the Star he is looking into the matter.”]

[Update from the Canadian Press: “British man on U.S. no-fly list gets ‘one-time offer’ to fly to Glasgow…. An Englishman left stranded in Canada because he’s on the U.S. no-fly list is headed home — sort of. Dawood Hepplewhite says a British consular official called with a ‘one-time offer’ from Air Transat to fly with his wife and children to Glasgow, Scotland, on Wednesday night as a ‘goodwill gesture.'”]