OTTAWA — An Englishman 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 him, his wife and children to Glasgow, Scotland, on Wednesday night.
“They said I’m a family guy and they’re doing it as a goodwill gesture.”
But Glasgow is about 300 kilometres from his home in Sheffield, England. And Hepplewhite is worried about the reception he’ll get when he lands.
“It’s a good sigh of relief, but I don’t think this is going to be the last of it,” he said.
“I don’t feel they’re just going to say, ’Oh, welcome home, have a good day.’ ”
Civil liberties advocates said Wednesday the marooned Briton’s plight highlights the dangers posed by continuing use of the U.S. no-fly list by airlines in Canada.
Airlines that operate from Canada have been known to reject passengers whose names are on the U.S. blacklist. That’s because many flights pass through American airspace or might be forced to land at a U.S. airport in the event of an emergency.
Transport Canada refused to grant an interview on the matter Wednesday.
In an emailed statement, the department said Canadian law “does not compel or prohibit air carriers from using or applying foreign passenger screening lists or tools.”
“Thus Transport Canada does not give directions regarding the use of the U.S. no-fly list.”
Hepplewhite, 30, divides his time between Sheffield and Toronto, where his Canadian wife Farhia and their three children live.
He showed up at Toronto’s Pearson Airport on Sunday with his family only to be told by an Air Transat official he couldn’t board the aircraft. Hepplewhite says Air Canada and British Airways also refused to fly him to England on Monday.
Hepplewhite suspects he is on the U.S. roster because he’s a Muslim and once had an interview in Yemen — considered a hotbed of terrorism — for a position teaching English.
“And when I came back to England I got pulled aside by the police.”
But Hepplewhite dropped the idea of working in the Mideast country and has been to Canada several times since that incident.
He’s been advised to use the U.S. Transportation Security Administration’s redress process to try to get his name removed from the no-fly list — a process that can take between 45 and 60 days.
Roch Tasse of the Ottawa-based International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group says Canada is effectively “contracting out” its security screening to the United States.
The Americans have zero tolerance for risks, Tasse said.
“A lot of their security measures are based on paranoia. They’re still in the aftermath of 9-11. The world has moved on, they have not.
“It just makes absolutely no sense.”
The federal government must press Washington to put a fair system in place so travellers can find out why they’re on the U.S. list, said Nathalie Des Rosiers of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
The problem is many people who have completed redress forms can’t challenge the evidence supporting their inclusion because they’re not allowed to see it, she said.
“There’s lack of due process rights, and it has significant implications for people like this gentleman.”
Tasse and Des Rosiers say the headaches will only mushroom due to a bill before Parliament that would allow airlines to share passenger information required by the U.S. Secure Flight program.
Secure Flight will permit the United States to collect name, gender and birth date from the approximately five million Canadians who fly through American airspace every year en route to destinations such as Mexico — even though their planes don’t touch American soil.
“It is totally unacceptable,” said Tasse. “Canada, with its allies, should be pushing back on the U.S.”
Des Rosiers worries about what will happen to the personal information of Canadians collected through Secure Flight. “There’s no guarantee that it will not be shared outside of the U.S.”
In the House of Commons, New Democrat MP Dennis Bevington called it a “bad deal” for Canadians and urged the government to negotiate a new deal with the United States that better protects the rights of travellers.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said the bill responds to requirements the American Congress has placed on people flying over the United States.