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November 17, 2010

Racial profiling of Muslims - again

The Canadian Charger

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After two packages from Yemen containing explosives were discovered recently, racial profiling of Muslims has reared its ugly head once again.

For the purposes of its inquiry, the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s definition for "racial profiling" is:  any action undertaken for reasons of safety, security or public protection, that relies on stereotypes about race, colour, ethnicity, ancestry, religion, or place of origin, or a combination of these, rather than on a reasonable suspicion, to single out an individual for greater scrutiny or different treatment.

Racial profiling is different from criminal profiling. Racial profiling is based on stereotypical assumptions because of one’s race, colour, ethnicity, etc. Criminal profiling, on the other hand, relies on actual behaviour or on information about suspected activity by someone who meets the description of a specific individual.

Meanwhile, a memo circulated at several Canadian airports, shortly after the packages from Yemen were discovered, directs Air Canada staff to take aside any passenger who was born or is a resident of Yemen, is travelling to or transiting  through Yemen, or has started a trip from  Yemen. The passenger, who would have already gone through normal security, will be taken to a so-called sterile area for a more thorough search.

In order to avoid inconveniencing the other passengers on the flight, the Air Canada memo says the flight should not be delayed while the passenger is undergoing a second search; but the passenger should be rebooked on the next available flight.

Because an Air Canada spokesperson refused to comment – citing security concerns – it's not known if Transport Canada issued this order or if Air Canada is doing it on its own.

Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of CAIR-CAN, Canada's largest Muslim lobby group, said this is blatant racial profiling.

“Profiling assumes there are innate characteristics which are a predictor of criminality, and this is a slippery slope into racism.”

British terrorism expert Sajan Gohel said that even in extraordinary circumstances, racial profiling is not justified, although he added that there is no doubt that al-Qaeda is increasing using Yemen as its prime base to mount attacks against the West.

But Canadian security expert Arne Kislenko said it's not racist to target passengers travelling to and from a country that al-Qaeda is using as a base to attack the West.  He said if security officials are giving special attention to Yemeni nationals its likely because intelligence agencies are aware of a specific threat.  “There's probably intelligence communities who have information about specific threats,” Mr. Kislenko said. “And they more than likely involve Yemeni nationals travelling to the U.S. or elsewhere on Western airlines.”

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