Skip to content

Bill C-42, Harper’s “Secure Flight” legislation, becomes law

Of all the bills that won’t survive the vote of non-confidence today, why couldn’t this be one of them? Bill C-42, An Act to amend the Aeronautics Act, passed the Senate and received royal assent on March 23. The new law makes it legal for Canadian airlines to send your personal information–whatever they have in their system, not just name, gender and date of birth as Harperites claimed in the House of Commons debate–to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security prior to boarding flights that pass over the United States. DHS now has the ultimate say on who can fly in Canada, even on domestic flights if the emergency airport is in the United States.

That was one of the big lies of the Harper government throughout the debate, that Canada bargained for and received an exemption for domestic flights. In fact, 75 per cent of all domestic flights in Canada will be covered by the U.S. Secure Flight rules. According to Roch Tasse of the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, “We can now expect that many individuals will be barred from flying because of the kafkaesque U.S. no-fly list, or because their name is the same as someone else on the list (false positive), and this without any effective recourse or redress mechanism.”

There are unanswered questions about how the U.S. will use this information, and with which third countries they might share it. As an ICLMG letter to all MPs before the House of Commons vote said:

by adopting C-42 and enabling the U.S to obtain more information on travelers and to share this information with third countries with dubious human rights records, Canada could become an accomplice in the U.S. rendition program already responsible for the torture of Canadians in Syria and Egypt, among others. At the very least, it would support Canadian complicity with a foreign government’s program that violates due process and the principles of natural justice.

Many groups in Canada and Quebec opposed this legislation, including the Council of Canadians. I’m sure some of you wrote to MPs about it using our action alert. The NDP and Bloc joined us and fought the bill as it went through the House of Commons. But the Liberals and Conservatives pushed it through. It was disturbing to see the Liberals so willing to vote in favour of C-42 when it is clearly wrapped up in Harper’s perimeter security plan with the U.S., which they have challenged as too secretive and in need of more debate.

The Liberals and Canada could have done better on C-42. There were few supporters of the legislation beyond Canadian airlines, who were probably already sharing information with DHS even though that would have been illegal before two days ago. The Harper government was also worried how commerce would be affected by not abiding by the U.S. Secure Flight program, and not how travellers would be inconvenienced. Already this year we’ve seen at least three cases of travellers to or from Canadian airports being blocked by Canadian airlines because they were on a U.S. list.

The ICLMG letter to MPs pleaded for sanity:

Canada can still say “no” to Secure Flight. In fact we would be doing the world a favour by voting “no” to C-42 because of the enormous global concern about the program from other states, as well as various international bodies, including the United Nations. Because of our geographic location, Canadians have the most to lose from the imposition of Secure Flight rules on Canadian travel. It’s only right that Canada takes a stand now, before it is too late.

Unfortunately, now it is too late. The ease with which the federal government handed over sovereignty on this critical security policy does not bode well for the perimeter security talks with President Obama.