The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Number of people on Canadian no-fly list must stay secret: government

  • Print

OTTAWA - Federal security officials are resisting pressure to reveal how many people are on Canada's no-fly list, arguing the information could help terrorists plot a catastrophic attack on an airliner.

In newly filed court documents, the government also contends that divulging the figure might damage relations with key allies, especially the United States.

Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault is challenging the government's refusal to disclose the data to a Montreal journalist who requested it under the Access to Information Act.

La Presse reporter Daphne Cameron filed two requests for figures from 2006 through 2010 — one for the total number of people on the list, the second for the number of Canadian citizens.

Legault's office investigated Cameron's complaint against Transport Canada and recommended last year that the agency release the figures.

Transport Canada refused to comply, prompting Legault to take the case to the Federal Court of Canada.

Under the no-fly program in place since June 2007, airlines rely on a list of individuals considered "an immediate threat to civil aviation" should they board an aircraft.

Candidates for the no-fly roster — formally known as the Specified Persons List — are put forward by the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

Members of these agencies, along with representatives of Transport, the Canada Border Services Agency and the Justice Department, sit on an advisory panel that formally recommends names for inclusion. The public safety minister has the final say.

In withholding the numbers, Transport Canada invoked a section of the access law shielding information whose release could interfere with the conduct of international affairs as well as the detection, prevention or suppression of "hostile activities."

In her May 2013 letter to then-transport minister Denis Lebel, filed with the court, Legault said she was not satisfied the exemption had been properly applied.

Disclosing an aggregate number of people on the no-fly list "would not allow an individual to determine whether he or she is on the list," she wrote.

The roster is only one of a number of lists used by airlines to ensure aviation security, Legault added. Therefore, even if someone could conclude they were on the list, "this fact would not transform Canadian or Canadian-bound aircraft into 'soft targets,' as claimed by (Transport Canada)."

Christopher Free, a senior Transport Canada intelligence official, was consulted by Transport's Access to Information division in March 2010 on whether the figures could be disclosed. Free concluded the number of names "was valuable information for terrorist operational planning" and that its release would harm national security, he says in an affidavit filed recently with the court.

"This determination is based on my understanding of how terrorist groups operate," says Free, chief of operational and intelligence support within the aviation security operations branch of Transport.

"In order to plan and execute a successful attack and minimize risk, terrorist organizations must first solve the 'intelligence problem' of knowing and understanding the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities available with respect to their target."

Portions of Free's filing have been blacked out, with the court's permission, in keeping with federal concerns about maintaining secrecy.

The United States has revealed there are about 16,000 people — including fewer than 500 Americans — on its no-fly list.

Still, Free says disclosure of the Canadian numbers could "adversely affect our relations with key allies, and especially the U.S."

CSIS and Public Safety Canada back Transport's bid to keep the figures under wraps.

"Although the information may at first appear innocuous, the Service maintains that it would be ill advised to expose the scope of Canada's intelligence knowledge in this specific area of enforcement," CSIS says in an October 2011 memo that has become part of the court file.

In a 2012 report, the watchdog that keeps an eye on CSIS said confusion over how the no-fly list should work had "significantly undermined" its potential to help keep the skies safe.

The Security Intelligence Review Committee said the notion of "an immediate threat to civil aviation" was open to interpretation, and federal agencies had "struggled" with nominating people for the list.

Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Key of Bart: Let It Blow

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A golfer looks for his ball in a water trap at John Blumberg Golf Course Friday afternoon as geese and goslings run for safety- See Joe Bryksa’s 30 day goose challenge- Day 24– June 15, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • A pelican comes in for a landing Wednesday afternoon on the Red River at Lockport, Manitoba - Standup photo- June 27, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Should Canada send heavy military equipment to Ukraine?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google