By TOM GODFREY
A precedent-setting human rights case is underway against Air Canada over the use of the controversial “No Fly List” for screening passengers boarding its flights.
Mohamed Yaffa, who is Muslim, filed a complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Commission after being selected for questioning on six different occasions as he was boarding Air Canada flights from March to June 2010.
The case has hit home for many innocent travellers who claim to be “subjected to interrogation”, or not being allowed on flights, after their names were compared against a U.S.-compiled “No Fly List”, of known or suspected terrorists.
Yaffa, a well-respected Canadian citizen originally from Sierra Leone, works as a Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator for the Nova Scotia health care system. He is representing himself at the hearing.
“This has been a very disturbing experience for me and my family,” Yaffa told Share. “It has been very stressful and the constant questioning carries with it a stigma when you cannot travel.”
He is outraged by always being singled out from other passengers when boarding domestic or international flights. It always ends up with the agent calling someone and making notes, he said.
“I am the first one in line but always the last one on the plane,” said Yaffa. “Air Canada will not tell me why they are doing this, but I am always the last one allowed on.”
His case is being heard by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal that last week allowed the disclosure of certain information to be shared by the parties.
“He (Yaffa) claims the carrier subjected him to enhanced security screening, because of his race, national or ethnic origin, colour and religion, on six different occasions,” according to a decision by Tribunal member, David Thomas.
Yaffa, in his complaint, alleges to have suffered damages due to “depression, anxiety, insomnia and diminished self-esteem”, for which he is seeking compensation for pain and suffering.
He claimed the alleged actions caused him “distress, anxiety, stress, lack of sleep and chronic apprehension at the airport”.
“I have cancelled and or missed many opportunities to travel to places for my own benefit and that of my family and therefore suffered serious losses to my well-being and those of my family,” Yaffa alleged.
He has heard from others who have not been allowed on Air Canada flights due to issues with the “No Fly List”.
“The Complainant (Yaffa) speaks of an atmosphere of fear of Muslims following the tragic events of September 11, 2001,” said Thomas in his decision. He “believes it is important to know what the Respondent (Air Canada) has been doing to ensure its employees are culturally sensitive”.
The airline said when a passenger’s name is a close match to any name on the “No-Fly List or Selectee List”, an automatic prompt will appear on the agent’s screen stating that the passenger is “Deemed High Profile”.
The agent is then required to contact a division within Air Canada’s Corporate Security Department called the Operation Security Centre, whose officials will investigate and determine if the traveller can board.
“I am concerned for my family,” said Yaffa. “This has got to stop.”
He had sought documents to determine if the staff involved in the alleged incidents had received cultural training and when. In addition, Yaffa was ordered to turn over parts of his medical and employment records to the airline.
Air Canada lawyers argued they did not discriminate against anyone and were “simply following American as well as Canadian aviation security requirements, including each country’s No-Fly Lists”.
The airline was ordered to disclose passenger complaints made against it, from 2007 to present, alleging discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour and religion. It must also provide information regarding the outcome of the complaints.
The case will continue once the documents have been received by the parties.