Transport Canada’s big fat secret

Al Telbani is on the no-fly list, but how many others are there?

Transport Canada’s big fat secret

Canada’s “no-fly list” contains at least one name for sure: Hani Al Telbani. As Maclean’s first reported in September, the Concordia University student holds the dubious distinction of being the only person ever denied permission to board an airplane as a result of the screening program, and he is now fighting the federal government in court, demanding to know why authorities consider him an “immediate threat to aviation security.”

Al Telbani aside, the rest of the so-called “Specified Persons List” is a heavily guarded secret. Compiled by Transport Canada with the help of the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), it is the furthest thing from a public document. Only a select few officials have access, and if you’re on it, you won’t find out unless you actually show up at an airport and try to check in.

Ottawa won’t even reveal how many entries the list contains. Previous press reports have the figure at “between 500 and 2,000,” but when Maclean’s filed an Access to Information request for the precise number, the ministry’s response—one line—was no response at all: “There are as of 27 August 2008, ___ listed on the Specified Persons List.”

Apparently, releasing the number—not the names, just the number—could jeopardize Ottawa’s ability to keep our skies safe. How, exactly? A Transport Canada spokesman would only say that disclosing “the size of such a list would compromise our intelligence gathering and security efforts.”

The government has told the public how many potential terrorists CSIS is watching (294, as of 2006) and how many terrorist financing networks are operating in Canada (up to 39, as of last month). Yet the feds have decided that our security would be compromised if Canadians knew how many “imminent threats”—other than Hani Al Telbani—have been declared too dangerous to fly.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.