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Security can be one of the worst parts at the airport for everyone. Standing in long lines, being subjected to random searches with the TSA, getting stuck behind travelers who seem like they’ve never been in an airport before — it can be an exhausting task, especially if your name is flagged with an SSSS tag for enhanced security every time you fly — like TPG had last year. But, imagine if you were flagged as a security risk since birth.
That’s what happened to Canadian-born 6-year-old, Adam Ahmed. It all started when his parents, Sulemaan Ahmed and Khadija Cajee, were held by Mexican border agents on a family trip to the country. They had to hand over their passports for 30 minutes without any explanation. Cajee told VICE News they thought the extra search was because of their names. But, it happened again when the family was traveling within the country to Halifax and an Air Canada agent told them that their infant son had the label “deemed high profile” on his file, meaning he could be on a Canadian or US no-fly list.
— CBC News (@CBCNews) January 4, 2016
Before the agent told the family of their son’s tag, nobody had provided any information about the enhanced screening processes they experienced whenever traveling with Adam. The tag meant that in order to board a flight, he could have to undergo questioning and special screening — as a 6-year-old. Thankfully, he’s never been denied from getting on a flight, but the family has to plan in advance and get to the airport with plenty of time for Adam’s identity to be cleared and to confirm he’s not a security risk.
After another attempt at flying — with his dad to Boston for the NHL winter classic hockey game — Adam’s dad snapped a picture of the computer screen that confirmed his son’s status as “deemed high profile” and tweeted it out.
— Sulemaan Ahmed (@sulemaan) December 31, 2015
After the tweet started to spread (and it now has more than 400 retweets), Canadian Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale answered in a statement to CBC News, “The reports of Mr. Ahmed and his son, Adam’s, experience during their recent travel to Boston is certainly cause for concern and I will be reviewing the specifics of their case with officials in the coming days.” This is a good sign, but why was he flagged as a security risk in the first place?
The exact reason is unclear and the federal ministers of transport and public safety didn’t even confirm that Adam was on any watch list. However, the family says every agent they’ve encountered has been really sympathetic to their situation, but they’re concerned about what the flag will mean for their son as he gets older and the checks become more intrusive. Air Canada did not comment on the case, but a spokesperson with Canada’s department of public safety told VICE News that “Delays may occur for passengers who have the same name as a person listed under the PPP [Passenger Protect Program], or another security-related list such as the US no-fly list.” Airline officials have offered suggestions to the family to help make traveling easier, including applying for an Aeroplan card and changing Adam’s name — both of which would be temporary solutions to the problem.
Since making their story public, the family has received phone calls and messages from families saying their children have been “deemed high profile” by the government. Cajee said all of them are Muslim or have Arabic-sounding names. And now other families are starting to come forward, furthering the idea that the Canadian no-fly list is overly broad in who it marks as a suspicious person. Hopefully when Goodale reviews the case, his plans of better balancing collective security with rights and freedoms will take effect so everyday people — especially children — aren’t subjected to this kind of security flag.
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