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Canada’s shadowy new airport security system may enable racial profiling

Next time you arrive in Canada, you might just get singled out for extra screening by airport security. The Canada Border Services Agency has flagged thousands of people arriving in Canada via plane using a new security system. And why were these travellers getting flagged? That’s a troubling question, because Canadians have been left in the dark on it.

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The Canada Border Services Agency mysteriously flagged over 2,300 passengers recently. It explained its methods to The Canadian Press as vaguely as humanly possible, saying it flagged passengers based on “a generic set of indicators” it uses to determine who “may pose a higher risk.” Well, that clears it up.

Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien is worried this new security system could result in racial profiling at the airport. In his recent annual report, he expressed concerns that passengers would be “subjected to recurring and unnecessary attention at the border because of characteristics they cannot change,” such as their nationality, age, place of birth, gender, race or ethnic origin.

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He warns of the potential reach of the new program: “Designed to harmonize with the system used by the U.S., it could allow the operator to, for example, search for all males aged between the ages of 18-20 who are Egyptian nationals and who have visited both Paris and New York.”

And thanks to recent stories in the media, the Canadian public has already started to seriously question whether racial profiling is taking place in airports at security. Remember the recent news that Sulemaan Ahmed, the Huffington Post writer, tried to take his 6-year-old son to a Habs game, only to find the child was flagged on the Deemed High Profile List, a list reserved for “potential threats” to public safety? And the parents who stepped forward after that to say their toddlers (toddlers!) had been inexplicably flagged as potential security threats as well?

Monia Mazigh, the national coordinator of Ottawa’s International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, is concerned that Canada might be moving toward a border security system that resembles that of the United States. She questions whether there’s any research to back up the claims that these new policies will actually make us safer:

“It’s very important for Canadians to know that.”

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