When Teddy Kennedy wasn't allowed to board a flight recently - a misapplied security measure - he at least had recourse to the United States Senate. I wasn't so fortunate. A few months back, I arrived in Vancouver from Toronto on a Jetsgo charter flight and was oddly refused a connecting Air Canada flight to Victoria that same night.
The reason? I'll probably never know. After landing in Vancouver, my wife and I went to the ticket desk and gave the desk staff a credit card and valid picture ID and proceeded to wait for our boarding passes.
Soon after our credit card payment was processed, I was told that I would not be allowed to board the flight, but that my wife could. The booking agent did add that it might be possible to board if I had a Canadian passport, which I did not have with me. The request struck me as odd. Since when do Canadian-born citizens need passports to travel within our own country?
Of course, I couldn't help wondering what was standing in my way. Was it that I grew up in Pakistan? Could it have been because I am an editorial cartoonist perhaps a shade too vocal in my criticism of American foreign policy? Might it possibly be my skin colour, my faith or the perpetual 5 o'clock shadow on my face?
Whatever the reason, we were suddenly not allowed to fly, and ended up renting a car to drive to Victoria.
When I launched a formal complaint to Air Canada, I received an e-mail from the company's Brenda Benholme dated June 21. She says that because we arrived 40 minutes before the scheduled flight was due to take off, we would have needed additional photo identification to complete the check-in process.
She goes on to say that "Air Canada is obligated to comply with the law, and specifically with the law regarding security. We are not at liberty to disclose to you the specifics of such compliance. However, passengers may be subject to security checks from time to time, and there is always the possibility that customers will be exposed to increased security procedures, and additional identification would be necessary."
Nathalie Lemyre, Air Canada's manager of customer appeals, assures us in an August 10 letter that the disruption of our travel plans "had nothing to do with racial profiling. Air Canada does not practise racial profiling and will challenge any allegation to the contrary. There is no such list as a 'no fly' list in Canada at this time,' Lemyre writes, "although Transport Canada is currently working on such a list pursuant to recent legislation."
As a citizen, I'm owed some basic answers. The system through which I filed complaints only provides an e-mail and fax number. There is no one to speak to, and the only telephone number puts complainants through an automated system. This may be appropriate for people claiming damaged suitcases but is absolutely unacceptable in circumstances where profiling may be at issue. A proper procedure for appealing is what is needed here.
Is it possible that criteria used to select passengers for screening or flagging are extremely broad? And that people's names are entered into a system though there is no actual corroborated intelligence information on them? Shouldn't it be intelligence that distinguishes potential terrorists from legitimate travellers?
I can't imagine what my crime is. A scarier thought is that my name, common as it is, was confused with some other Shahid Mahmood, and that sometime in the future, in the wake of another senseless act of terrorism, my handle might turn up on a military ledger in Guantánamo Bay.
Editor's note: Repeated calls by NOW to Air Canada seeking further explanation went unanswered.