'He's six': Parents question why son is on travel security list
Emily Chan, CTVNews.ca
Published Monday, January 4, 2016 4:55AM EST
Last Updated Monday, January 4, 2016 10:38PM EST
Syed Adam Ahmed is six years old, Canadian-born and an avid Habs fan.
He's also, his parents say, an unlikely addition to a list of "high-profile" travellers deemed potential security risks.
According to Adam's parents, their son's name has raised red flags at airports since he was born.
Every time they fly, they're unable to check Adam in online, and he's needed special clearance and security checks before being allowed to board the plane.
The problem came up recently, on Dec. 31, when Adam and his father, Sulemaan Ahmed, tried to check in for a flight to Boston for the NHL Winter Classic.
This time, Adam's father snapped a photo as he waited for his son to get the go-ahead to board the plane.
"At that point, I guess kind of as a joke … I tweeted at Air Canada and said 'He's six,' " Ahmed told CTV News Channel on Monday.
Ahmed posted the image on Twitter, along with a message directed at the airline's Twitter account.
"Why is our (Canadian born) 6 year old on DHP no fly list (sic)?" Ahmed's message said, referring to the acronym for travellers "deemed high profile." "He must clear security each time. He is 6 (sic)."
The tweet gained traction online, attracting other travellers who said their children had the same problem, and garnering a response from Air Canada, which said it can't control which names are flagged for security.
@sulemaan Everytime we travel the agent has to call & get clearance.He's 2! I fear for when he gets older! Let me know if u get any resolve— Khudija Ali (@K_dot_ali) January 1, 2016
Ahmed's message also caught the attention of Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale as well as Ahmed's local Member of Parliament, Minister of Health Jane Philpott.
Goodale reached out to the couple on Twitter and offered to "check out" the problem. And Adam's mother, Khadija Cajee, says she has a meeting scheduled with Philpott later this week.
In a statement, Goodale said that the Liberal government “pledged during the election to review” issues relating to “so-called no fly” lists as part of a broader plan to repeal the “problematic elements” of the previous government’s anti-terrorism law known as Bill C-51.
Adam's parents say they aren't sure exactly why he's on the security list, but they assume it must be because he shares a name with somebody who actually does pose a threat.
"Our best guess is that he has a name similar to, or the same as somebody else, who is suspicious," Cajee said on Monday. "But it's really silly because he's six years old. I mean, he has a very clear identifier, his date of birth."
Security experts say it isn’t clear how the “no fly” lists are created, or even if they are effective. Despite promises to investigate Ahmed’s case, a spokesperson for the Public Safety department admits the onus falls to the person with the same name as on the “no fly” list to contact the airline ahead of time in order to minimize delays.
“There is great secrecy around the actual make up of the list, who gets on the list, how they get on the list,” said David Lyons, a professor of surveillance studies at Queen’s University.
Ahmed, who was once a flight attendant himself, says he and his wife don't blame airline staff or customs agents for the hold-ups. But they say they do think there's a problem with the system that needs to be fixed.
"This is not an isolated incident and we believe this is a waste of our security and dollars and resources to investigate six-year-olds," Ahmed said.
Cajee and Ahmed said they've had some "good response" from the government already, and that they hope the issue will be resolved soon.
And in the meantime, they're trying to stay positive about the situation.
"We're hoping to have this resolved in a lighthearted manner," Cajee said. "There's no sense really in getting aggravated or frustrated about it."
As for Adam, his parents say he's unaware of the controversy his name has sparked. Instead, he's busy focusing on hockey and cheering on his favourite team.
"He doesn't know any of this," Cajee said with a laugh. "He thinks he's going to be interviewed about going to the Winter Classic!"
With files from CTV's Peter Akman