TORONTO — A government decision that stripped a woman of her airport security clearance and put her out of work more than two years ago was unfair, incomprehensible and unreasonable, a Federal Court judge has ruled.
In ordering the minister of transport to take another look at the case, Judge Susan Elliott slammed the government for treating Ayaan Farah in a shoddy fashion.
The advisory group that recommended revoking the clearance did not carefully review documents, Elliott said in her written decision, while the director general of aviation security failed to “ensure the critical facts upon which she relies are very clear.”
Elliott quashed the revocation, saying the government had hidden behind the Privacy Act and badly failed Farah—especially in light of the “gravity of the consequences” to her. In April 2014, Transport Canada told Farah that the RCMP had reported her having contact with criminals only identified as subjects A, B, and C. Police claimed that two of the individuals used Farah’s car to go to a funeral for a known gang member—although she was not in the car and did not attend the service.
RCMP also said police interacted with her while she was in A’s company but she said she had no memory of being stopped by police and that she did not know who the criminals were, although her lawyer suggested one may have been her brother.
Police, citing privacy concerns, refused to name them.
“These sparse allegations are unique in the annals of security-clearance revocation cases,” Elliott observed in her judgment.
“Ms. Farah was simply not provided with enough information to allow her to make any kind of meaningful response.”
Farah, 32, a Somali-Canadian, protested she was a law-abiding citizen with no criminal record who was being falsely accused of having ties to gangsters.
Nevertheless, Transport Canada revoked her security clearance in November 2014. US Airways then suspended the eight-year customer service rep and ticketing agent at Toronto’s international airport without pay or benefits.
At the Federal Court hearing in January, a government lawyer told Elliott the legislation around security clearances only requires the minister to reasonably believe a person might be prone to, or induced to, do something that could interfere with civil aviation. Elliott, however, was not persuaded.
“The conclusion in the decision is not intelligible or transparent,” said Elliott, who also ordered the government to pay her $2,000 in court costs.
Neither Farah nor her lawyer, who had accused the government of finding his client guilty by association without any hearing or chance to explain away the allegations against her, responded immediately to a request for comment.
Transport Canada said Tuesday it would review the decision before deciding on any further action.