Parents of young kids say federal no-fly inquiries office is little or no help

The parents of dozens of youngsters have experienced nerve-fraying airport delays.

Families of young children who repeatedly run into no-fly list snags at the airport say a federal inquiries office intended to help them has been of little or no use.

The problems seem likely to persist because a more permanent solution promised by the Liberals – a full redress system to deal with mistaken identities – is still at least 16 months away.

The parents of dozens of youngsters have experienced nerve-fraying airport delays because their children’s names match those on a confidential security list.

In June, the Liberal government announced the Passenger Protect Inquiries Office to help people who are delayed during the check-in process and asked to provide identification, have to wait at the counter due to a ticketing agent placing a phone call to other officials, or are denied boarding for whatever reason.

Families with young children who have explained their cases to the office continue to experience airport hassles, said Khadija Cajee, a spokeswoman for the group known as the No Fly List Kids.

Cajee, who lives in Markham, Ont., said at least four families – including her own – received only an explanatory letter from the inquiries office one month after submitting details of their children’s cases.

“So far it hasn’t really resulted in any positive steps forward for any of us,” said Cajee, whose seven-year-old son Adam was most recently delayed at the airport two weeks ago when travelling with his father.

A July 27 letter to Cajee’s husband from the inquiries office, a unit of Public Safety Canada, says officials were beginning to work with Canadian air carriers and other government agencies to improve the application of search filters used in screening air traveller manifests. “These measures, such as refining search functions, could help to improve the accuracy of the screening process.”

That hasn’t helped Heather Harder, whose two-year-old son Sebastian has triggered red flags on two trips to Saskatoon from their home in London, Ont., since receiving a similar response from the inquiries office.

“There wasn’t a lot of substance to the letter,” Harder said in an interview. “It definitely didn’t resolve anything for us.”

The family usually faces delays of 20 to 30 minutes, and Sebastian is allowed to board the plane when it becomes obvious he is a toddler. But Harder worries what might happen when he’s older and begins to travel on his own.

“It’s worrisome for the future.”

Four federal employees – one manager and three analysts – are responsible, among other duties, for responding to inquiries received by the office, said Jean-Philippe Levert, a Public Safety spokesman.

“While there is no set timeline for the resolution of each inquiry, as cases greatly vary in their level of complexity, the (office) sets out to resolve all requests in a timely manner, with the goal of being as expeditious as possible,” said Levert.

“A small sample of cases may not be representative of all outcomes.”

The Liberals have promised a redress system that would eventually allow travellers whose names closely match those on the Canadian no-fly list to apply for a unique identification number. They could use this number at the time of ticket purchase to clear their name in advance and prevent delays.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has said Canada needs “an entirely new database and information system” to fully solve the problem of people – including children – being delayed at airports.

Unlike the standalone U.S. system, Canada’s no-fly list database was designed to piggyback on to airline computers, meaning it’s more difficult to clear up misunderstandings.

“To put this new system in place, important regulatory and data system changes are required,” Levert said. “While those changes are underway, we are aiming for implementation by spring of 2018.”

Cajee, Harder and other families with youngsters who are grappling with security-list mismatches plan to attend a public meeting in Markham on Sunday with Goodale and two other Liberal cabinet ministers – part of the federal consultation on national security policy.

Meantime, Harder and her family are planning another plane trip, and wondering what will happen at the check-in counter.

“We fly again on Wednesday, so we’ll see,” she said. “Each time, we’re not sure. It’s frustrating.”

 

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press