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Civil Society > Big Democracies at the Crossroads

Born in Canada, flagged in Canada

To the Editor,

My wife and I flew to Vancouver from Toronto on a Jetsgo charter flight in May. We wanted to take a connecting Air Canada flight to Victoria that same night and upon arrival walked over to the Air Canada counter. After being assured of the availability of both seats and time to board flight AC 8087, we gave the desk staff a credit card and a valid picture ID and proceeded to wait for our boarding passes.

cartoonSoon after our credit-card payment was processed, I was told that I was flagged and would not be allowed to board the Air Canada flight. My wife who is not of Pakistani origin was told that she could, should she choose, board the plane. I, however, I could not. After much arguing, the Air Canada staff told us that they could do nothing about the matter as this was being ordered of them by their head office in Montreal. With all options denied, we requested whether we could book a ticket for the following day. We were told that this was not possible. With my flagging it was highly unlikely I would be allowed to board. The booking agent did add that it might be possible were I to show my Canadian passport (but again there was no guarantee). I was also told that in the future I should always carry my Canadian passport on all domestic flights. I am a born Canadian citizen and do not need a passport to travel within Canada. I have never carried a passport when traveling within Canada, just a valid, picture identification as per Canadian regulations. We ended up renting a car and driving to Victoria.

Accepting the premise that I am not a terrorist, what then is my crime? Is it that I am an editorial cartoonist with the New York Times Press Syndicate who is a bit too vocal in my criticism of American foreign policy? Or, is it that I have angered, as some conspiracy theorist friends have suggested, the Canadian Jewish Congress with my cartoons? Or, perhaps it is because I grew up in Pakistan, or is it because of the calls I placed to Robert Fisk in Lebanon last year. Might it possibly be my skin color, my faith, or because of the perpetual 4 p.m. shadow-stubble on my face. A scarier scenario would be that my name, common as it is, has been confused with some other Shahid Mahmood. What does this mean for me? It would mean, I think, that if there were another senseless act of extremism in North America, my name and self would most likely end up on a military ledger in Guantanamo Bay. I cannot be mistaken for another’s suspicions. It is incumbent upon Air Canada to tell me why, and if so by whom. Is it Air Canada? Or is it some branch of the Canadian or American Federal Government? I have the right to travel freely as any law-abiding Canadian citizen should be allowed. I now have to jump hoops to find out why I was flagged and if so, by whom. I took my story to the media to build a public awareness, then to lawyers, politicians, and to advocacy groups in both Canada and the United States. I have no answers as of yet.

Shahid Mahmood ( grew up in Pakistan and lives in Toronto. The WorldPaper first began publishing his cartoons in the late 1990s.