*** Racial / religious profiling exists? Imagine my shock. Better not let them grannies git away! MS ***
OTTAWA–A civil liberties coalition report puts a human face on the hassles and horrors of travelling, with multiple anecdotes suggesting religious and racial profiling is a reality when crossing the border.
"There is a huge amount of stigma to being labelled a security risk," Micheal Vonn, policy director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, said Wednesday.
"This was an attempt to systematically catalogue some of the things that have been impacting people's real lives," she said.
The Ottawa-based coalition of rights and labour organizations, calling itself the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, began researching the impact of security measures like the no-fly list two years ago.
"The staggering number of complex programs, rules and regulations, border controls and watch lists have had an indisputable impact on all travellers on both sides of the border," concluded the report.
It calls for the creation of independent watchdog to oversee the operations of all agencies involved in national security, including the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) and Transport Canada, and urges parliamentarians to conduct a full examination of the no-fly list and any new program that could mirror the upcoming U.S. Secure Flight program.
The group collected personal stories with the help of previously published media reports as well as a website and toll-free hotline that netted about 50 complaints.
Skin colour and religion appeared to play a large role in many of the complaints of undue harassment while going through airport security or crossing the border by land.
"The government must acknowledge this reality and Parliament should engage in a review of these practices to reaffirm that they are inappropriate under the Canadian Charter of Rights," the report gave as one of its recommendations.
The report cites a Muslim man from the Toronto area who recounts how it is "a regular routine to be hauled in for questioning and for additional searches by a CBSA agent."
On a recent trip, all the man's bags were opened and searched one by one, while his laptop and cellphone were taken for additional screening.
A dance instructor from Coquitlam, B.C., named Desiderio Fortunato was pepper-sprayed in the face in March 2009 after asking a U.S. border guard to say "please."
He also finds Canadian border officials are initially tense.
"I'm sometimes mistaken for Moroccan or an Iranian by CBSA agents. My skin is a bit dark and I have an accent," he said in the report.
"They always ask where I was born ... Once I say: `Portugal,' their body language changes, they relax a bit."
Vancouver psychotherapist Andrew Feldmar is barred from visiting his children in the United States because when he tried to cross the border in August 2006, a border agent found an article he had penned detailing an acid trip he had taken in the 1960s.
James Kusie, a spokesperson for Transport Minister John Baird, said the department will take time to review the report before responding, but added, "the safety and security of the travelling public is of utmost importance to our government."
Public Safety spokesperson Christine Csversko said "the CBSA is committed to the fair treatment of all travellers."