By TOM GODFREY
A frustrated Mohamed Yaffa seems to be a decent man who does not appear to be a terrorist, as Ottawa alleges.
He joins Shahid Mahmood, Ahmad Ali and many other Muslim Canadians who are tired of being grounded due to an Air Canada no-fly list that contains names similar to theirs.
Yaffa is a soft-spoken Halifax man who is trying to do what any Canadian would by removing his name from the dreaded list that is used by Air Canada and other airlines to screen passengers.
The father of young children has spent a small fortune on legal help during his unsuccessful four-year battle with the airline to be allowed on a flight without being pulled aside for interrogation.
Yaffa 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.
He is representing himself in a hearing before a Human Rights Tribunal.
The highly-educated and well-respected Yaffa is originally from Sierra Leone. He has a good-paying job as a Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator for the Nova Scotia health care system.
“I am not only doing this for me, but also for my family,” Yaffa told Share from Nova Scotia. “My family is with me and they witness everything when I am being questioned.”
There are dozens of complaints that have been filed against the airline by Muslims and others who are delayed or refused boarding after their names, or variations of their names appear on the list, as it has for Yaffa.
And it seems that all the responsibilities and expense to clear their names, if they ever can, fall on the traveller. Mind you, their names are never fully removed from a police computer system.
“We have had enough of this,” said Yaffa. “I am always first in line at the airport and seated last on the airplane.”
Air Canada officials have refused to discuss the situation citing they are required to screen passengers.
Mahmood, a former newspaper editor from Pakistan, has been fighting since 2004 for his name to be deleted from the list, ever since being refused from boarding an Air Canada flight from Vancouver to Victoria.
He took the airline to a Human Rights Tribunal in 2010 and won a settlement.
“The settlement package ensured the airline remedy systemic problems within a seriously flawed aviation security system,” Mahmood wrote in an editorial for the Toronto Star. “It turns out that Air Canada does not have the power to remove my name from Canada’s no-fly lists.”
Even after a victory at the tribunal, he was detained, questioned, fingerprinted and photographed by Interpol agents on arriving on a trip to Chile.
It is also impossible for citizens to obtain a straight answer on these issues.
The body in charge Public Safety Canada, under the guise of national security concerns, refer complaints to the Security Intelligence Review Committee; the Commission for Public Complaints against the RCMP; the Canadian Human Rights Commission or the Federal Courts.
Ali, of Saskatchewan, knows all about being bounced around.
The computer programmer for the University of Saskatchewan has been delayed a dozen times while boarding flights since 2008. He said the RCMP told him there is a name similar to his on a watch list.
“I feel I am either a second or third-class citizen,” said a dejected Ali. “They are humiliating me.”
And the humiliation will never stop.
Just ask former British pop star, Cat Stevens, who is now known as Yusuf Islam. He has been denied entry into the U.S. a number of times since 2004 after a name similar to his appeared on the list. He too has not been able to have his name removed and likely never will.