By Heather Ramsay–The islands’ Catholic priest was detained and searched while travelling to the United States to give a workshop to married couples.
Reverend John James Smith of Miller Creek first noticed something amiss when, at the check-in counter in Sandspit, the agent took his passport to another room for 10 minutes before returning with his boarding pass.
He began to get worried when the same thing happened in Seattle where he was catching a connecting flight to Montana.
There he was directed to another area to be screened.
Rev. Smith was asked to take off his shoes, belt and was patted down even though the metal detector hadn’t beeped when he went through.
“It was humiliating,” he said. Rev. Smith has travelled to the U.S. for similar workshops as recently as last summer with no troubles.
He filed a complaint to Air Canada and the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and received information from the TSA about how to apply for his name to be removed from a security list known as the no-fly watch list. The procedure involves completing a detailed Passenger Identity Verification Form that includes everything from his name, address, weight, height and eye colour to his social insurance number, passport or visa number, driver’s licence and birth certificate.
He is upset about the lack of effort Air Canada has made at responding to four different complaints he has filed since July. On September 2, the morning he was interviewed about the experience on CBC radio, he finally received a phone call from a company representative.
To top it all off, Rev. Smith said he experienced a similar delay when he flew from Sandspit to Edmonton on August 26 even after he was led to believe there is no similar watch list in Canada.
“Why am I being flagged in Canada? I wasn’t flying to the U.S.,” he said.
Rev. Smith says this has become a human rights issue for him. If he is targeted because of his common name, what other commonalities are the subject of targeting, he asks.
“Are all Muslims being targeted? Are all Joe Garcias?”
He feels security paranoia is now invading people’s privacy.
“We are moving into, if not already in, a police state because of a culture of fear,” he says.
Rev. Smith says he is not surprised by the degrading treatment he has received at the hands of the U.S. government, which he characterizes as becoming ever more arrogant.
He speculates his landed immigrant status may have something to do with it. Although he has lived in Canada for 16 years, he is still a citizen of Ireland.
Nevertheless, Rev. Smith is concerned about the damage done to his reputation as a leader on the islands.
“The essence of any kind of leadership is trust. If trust is broken you can forget about that.”
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