NCCM: Announcement on cross-border travel a step forward but privacy and civil liberties still a concern

(Ottawa – March 11, 2016) The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), a prominent civil liberties and advocacy organization, expressed cautious optimism about yesterday’s announcement by the Prime Minister of Canada that the federal government intends to work more closely with the United States to ensure Canadians who face difficulties travelling will have adequate avenues for redress.

The agreement was concluded during Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s official visit with US President Barack Obama this week.

“Our two countries have also agreed to create a Canada-U.S. Redress Working Group to facilitate cross-border, aviation-related redress, increase transparency, expedite processing of any complaints, and streamline security list removal procedures,” reads the fact sheet available on the Prime Minister’s website. “These processes will help ensure the most accurate information available is used to protect both transportation and national security, while minimizing the impact to the traveling public.”

Canadians facing difficulties at the borders, or even travelling inside Canada, have long complained of inadequate redress mechanisms. The NCCM has appeared before parliamentary committees and before public inquiries to call for greater transparency and better redress mechanisms.

As reported recently, Canadian children – some as young as six months – have also found themselves flagged while travelling. The NCCM has joined the families, and many other civil society groups, in calling on the federal government to fix the system.

“While yesterday’s announcement is a step forward, we do have concerns about what the impact of greater information sharing between the two countries would have on privacy rights and individual liberties, particularly in light of the fact that the Canadian government has yet to implement the recommendations of the Arar Inquiry in that regard,” says Khalid Elgazzar, NCCM Board Vice-Chair, and a national security lawyer.

“With respect to the issue of security watch lists, for years countless numbers of Canadians have been wrongfully prevented from traveling freely as a result of opaque security policies which, in certain cases, appear to have been based on ineffective measures such as ethnic or religious profiling. The NCCM has long called on the federal government to do more to ensure that innocent individuals are not affected by these lists or, at the very least, to ensure that those who are affected by these policies are afforded a fair, robust and transparent process to clear their names once they find out that they have been wrongly flagged.

“We look forward to working with the federal government to achieve a solution to these long standing problems, as well as other critical issues of national security and human rights.”

The NCCM is an independent, non-partisan, and non-profit grassroots organization. It is a leading voice for Muslim civic engagement and the promotion of human rights.