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Toronto: Fight to get back airport security clearance lands in court
Tuesday January 12, 2016
Ayaan Farah had no criminal record and a job with high security clearance. Until a brief and vague police report got her clearance revoked. Farah is challenging the decision Monday in Federal Court
Ayaan Farah is fighting the revocation of her security clearance to work at Pearson airport.
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Ayaan Farah has no criminal record.
For eight years, she was a customer service agent for US Airways at Pearson airport with the highest security clearance, undergoing background checks in 2006 and 2012.
And then a brief and vague police report — possibly based on information obtained through carding — got her clearance revoked.
On Jan. 9, 2014, Transport Canada received two pieces of information from Toronto police, via the RCMP: Farah, 31, was seen once in 2011 with a Dixon Crew gang member who “admitted at the time being a very close associate to (Farah).” And in September 2012, a car registered to her was seen leaving the funeral of a gang member. Farah was not in the car, but two people with criminal records were.
Farah told Transport Canada that she did not know who these people could be — none are named — and that she recalled no interaction with police and the gang member identified only as Subject A. It was likely her father driving the car to the funeral, she said, as he attends many funerals as a leader in the Somali community.
Farah’s clearance was placed under review for nine months and then restored in full in October 2014. It was revoked two months later. She has been suspended without pay since.
On Monday, Farah is challenging the decision in Federal Court, arguing that she was not given a fair chance to defend herself and that her Charter rights were violated because her associations were scrutinized with no reasonable grounds.
“I don’t have a criminal record, I’ve never committed a crime, I’ve always followed the law,” Farah said in an interview. She grew up in the Dixon Rd. area and Rexdale — both areas with serious crime problems — and volunteers as a community youth worker. “How do you know if someone has a criminal record? If you grew up in Dixon and John Garland, you went to school with these people, in the same community. Can you remember who you said hi to in 2011?”
She has been denied further information about the incidents due to privacy laws — she does not know who the subjects are, the exact dates the incidents occurred or where, or how the information was obtained.
The police report states they had a “direct interaction” with Farah and Subject A, who has been convicted of several charges, including drug trafficking and is involved in firearms trafficking. The report notes the current status of their association is not known and the exact nature of the association is never specified. It is not mentioned in the information provided if Farah herself ever spoke to the police during the incident or confirmed an association with Subject A.
Subject B, one of the two people with criminal records in the car at the funeral, was listed as having several convictions, including robbery and assault with a weapon. Subject C had a single conviction for theft under $5000.
Transport Canada’s director-general of aviation security found it unlikely Farah would not recall an interaction with police and, due to her “close association” with Subject A, “either knew or was wilfully blind to Subject A’s activities.” In her decision she noted Subject B has a withdrawn charge for second-degree murder.
Farah’s association with three individuals with criminal records (including the two found leaving the gang member’s funeral) raised “concerns about judgment, reliability and trustworthiness,” the decision states, concluding Farah may be induced to commit or help in an act that would impede civil aviation.
At Monday’s hearing, Farah’s lawyer Mitchell Worsoff says he will argue that Farah’s Charter right to “life, liberty and security” has been violated because her personal associations have been examined for no reason.
“She gets chastised and loses her job, suffering humiliation and essentially impecunity at this point, all because the state has chosen to look at who she has been associating with.
What is happening here is a very dangerous thing,” Worsoff said in an interview. If she is not successful in this proceeding, he said, “every member of our community and by extension, our country, and I don’t say this in a dramatic way, will face danger without having ever committed a criminal act.”
The factum he submitted to court argues “it is evident that an individual could objectively suffer serious psychological stress where that person cannot ever dispute or escape the shadow of criminal accusations that were never proven in court or substantiated.”
Transport Canada could not comment on the case as it is before the courts, a spokesperson said. Its factum filed with the court states that “access to a restricted area of an airport is a privilege, not a right” and that the decision “was both reasonably made and procedurally fair.”
It also says there is no basis for a Charter argument because there is no evidence Farah has undergone “significant psychological stress” due to her clearance being cancelled.
“What really frustrates me is how your clearance could be taken away from you for something you have not done,” Farah says. She questions why, if there were genuine concerns about her being a risk, it took so long for the information to come to Transport Canada and for her clearance to be revoked. “Maybe they think working at US airways is just a job. But I came from humble beginnings.
It was making ends meet. It was really important to me. For them to come to a decision so easily with no proof, no evidence…it’s very disappointing.”
Farah believes that the information given to Transport Canada was obtained through carding. While she has no recollection of being carded, her father did give his name and the car’s registration details to police once when leaving a funeral, according to an affidavit he filed with the court.
Farah’s younger sister, Naiima, has seen the ramifications of carding in her work in youth development — students unable to land jobs or volunteer positions because a police interaction shows up on a background check — but this is the first time it has struck so close to home.
“Targeting people from certain communities, this is something everyone needs to step against,” she says. “We are not collateral damage, we are not scraps of metal, we are human beings.”
Farah wonders how far the information has spread. Shortly before Farah’s security clearance was revoked, her aunt, an American citizen, was crossing the border from Canada to the U.S. She was taken aside, searched and finally asked if she knew Ayaan Farah and where she was.
Farah, a Canadian citizen, is now worried about what will happen should she travel to the U.S.
“No matter where I lived, it didn’t matter. I could make sure our situation improved by getting a job, going to school. I always believed in that,” says Farah who is currently attending Seneca college.
Now she is not so sure.
“You teach these kids follow the rules, obey the law, don’t take any shortcuts, go to school…but when the kids see that you’ve been following the law and you haven taken any shortcuts and your clearance is revoked and you don’t have a job even though you did everything right, why should they listen to me? My character is damaged. I don’t have answers for these kids.”
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