June 21st, 2007
Orwell couldn't have come up with “Passenger Protect”
Congratulations, Canadians. It takes balls to scale back rights and embrace inequality. But obviously there's nothing we're incapable of when we roll up our sleeves. Doubleplusgood, I say. Well done!
Canada now has a no-fly list and a pro-fly list: a list of people who have been found guilty of blowing up planes they haven't even boarded and a list of people deemed personally incapable of wrongdoing by virtue of their wealth; a list of brown people with funny names and another filled with pasty businessmen who simply must catch their flights; a list of people denied their Charter right to mobility and a list of privileged, "low risk" Canadians who can pay their way to the front of the airport line.
I'm talking about Canada's new no-fly list, Passenger Protect, and its newish pro-fly list of Nexus pass-holders - those deemed worthy of expedited air, land and sea travel by the Canadian Department of Public Safety and U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Whether you land into the first or the second database depends largely on where you come from, who you know, how you've lived and how much money you make.
Are you a self-maximizing self-starter who contributes to the economy in a productive and nationally important way? By all means apply for a Nexus card. If, after paying the $80 application fee, the U.S. government decides to grant you easy access to the Land of the Free, all you have to do is submit 10 fingerprints and two iris scans to a joint Canada-U.S. database and you can travel, hassle free, to and from both countries for five years. You can join the Nexus elite, the super citizens of North America, the "low-risk" champions of capitalism whose business it would be immoral to disrupt for reasons of national security.
Are you from Syria, Iran, Jordan, Algeria or any another Mohammedan nation considered to be an "outpost of tyranny" by Condoleezza Rice? Do you wear a turban? Do you know a friend of a friend who once thought they saw Osama bin Laden's cave while flying over Afghanistan? Then you can take your chances with the mass killers, drug dealers, gassy people and who knows who else our Transport Minister plans on filing next to the suicide pilots in his token no-fly list.
The list is token because it won't even include real terrorists for fear that they'll find out we're on to them! (At least that's how it works in America.) It's token because it was whipped together on the fly (ahem) to appease U.S. fears that we are a nation of infidels.
But most importantly, Canada's no-fly list is a token list because it logically can't make Canadians any safer than we were without it. I mean, if these travellers are so dangerous to the specific flight they are about to board, why didn't CSIS or the RCMP (or the U.S. Army, which has been hunting down war resisters on Canadian soil) catch them before they made it to the airport?
All the no-fly list does, quite successfully, is transform Canada from a place where we're all considered equal and innocent until proven guilty into a place where we're either high risk or low risk. Low-risk people get to move around, like it says we can in the Charter - section 6 if you're interested. Those who are high risk can either wait around at the airport for the RCMP to show up and grill them on the inner workings of al-Qaeda, or, if they actually didn't plan on blowing up their flight, plead their case to Transport Canada's "Office of Reconsideration."
Orwell couldn't have come up with this stuff: Passenger Protect? Office of Reconsideration? Nexus passes and "trusted travellers"? How did we let it get this far?
Like I said at the beginning - it wasn't easy. It took perseverance. We've known this shit was in the pipes for a long time, at least since the "Smart Border" declaration between Canada and the U.S. in 2001 that includes the no-fly list and Nexus.
Transport Canada couldn't have been clearer about its plan to strip a few hundred, maybe a few thousand, people of their Charter right to mobility. And Public Safety Canada has been openly proud of a trusted traveller system that institutionalizes class inequality more blatantly, more honestly than we're used to in this country.
It got this bad because, like with so many other post-9/11 laws and security measures, Canadians - the majority of which are neither high risk nor low risk - just didn't care enough until it was too late. So let's pat ourselves on the backs. May the iris scans be painless and the Office of Reconsideration merciful.