A British man is effectively trapped in Canada after two of the country’s airlines refused him boarding because he is on a no-fly list in the United States.
Dawood Hepplewhite arrived at Pearson airport on Sunday with a ticket for Air Transat’s flight to the United Kingdom. But, according to the 30-year-old, the airline told him about his place on the controversial list and that he wouldn’t be allowed to get on the aircraft, which flies through U.S. airspace.
He says he bought a ticket on Air Canada for the next day, but officials there denied him too, concerned their plane might have to land in the U.S. in an emergency.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association believes the airlines are acting on a bill that is not yet law. If approved, it would give U.S. officials final say over who can board a plane in Canada, even if the destination and any stopovers are not in the U.S.
“Bill C-42 hasn’t passed yet,” said Sukanya Pillay of the CCLA.
“We’re not supposed to be having the private sector handing over this information to foreign governments when the passenger isn’t flying to that particular government’s home state.”
Air Canada wouldn’t comment about the specifics of the case, but a spokesperson sent CityNews a written statement.
“This is a customer and security issue,” Peter Fitzpatrick wrote. “Air Canada operates in compliance with all applicable laws.”
Meanwhile, Hepplewhite – here on a visitor’s visa which expires in April – just wants to take his Canadian wife and children back to Britain so he can work.
“Ban me from the country if you feel I’m such a threat,” he said on Tuesday.
“I couldn’t bear to feel that I’m imprisoned in a country with no rights, no nothing. I want to go home. I’m not trying to go anywhere or do anything. I just want to go home.”
He says he doesn’t know why the U.S. deems him a threat to security, but his wife, Farhia Elmi, thinks it has to do with him being a white man who converted to Islam.
“How can somebody be dangerous if you have nothing to show that he’s dangerous?” she asked. “You have nothing other than he’s a Muslim. Are you serious? I truly don’t understand how they make these lists.”
According to Hepplewhite, he hasn’t been able to get any help from Canadian, U.S. or British representatives. In fact, he says immigration officials at the airport gave him two absurd options: overstay his visa so he is arrested and deported, or buy tickets on a cruise ship so he can get home without crossing U.S. soil or air.