Rights group launches FOI request on U.S. border agency travel ban actions at Canadian airports

February 10, 2017


FEBRUARY 10, 2017

TORONTO  ̶  Opponents of President Donald Trump’s Jan. 27, 2017 Executive Order restricting the travel of individuals from seven predominantly Muslim nations scored a victory in appeals court in Washington state last night, but many questions remain about how the ban was and could once again be enforced, particularly at overseas airports that provide pre-clearance for travelers going to the United States. 

Today, our colleagues at the American Civil Liberties Union have launched a freedom of information request (FOIA) demanding U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) hand over records on how the travel ban was and has been implemented at all sites where pre-clearance is in effect.  The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) continues to be concerned about the impact of the executive order on Canadian soil.

The potential impact and use of the executive order at these locations is significant, as some 16 million air travelers were admitted to the U.S. through these pre-clearance stations in 2015.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is meeting with Trump at the White House on Monday, and it’s very likely the Muslim ban will certainly come up. 

“In spite of court orders to the contrary, some CBP officials appear to be continuing to detain individuals and in some cases, refusing to process individuals through preclearance or revoking visas — though the approach appears to differ by location,” says the ACLU’s request to CBP.  

It also requests information on all records shedding light on how the EO has been described, interpreted, and implemented by the CBP.

“This freedom of information request by the ACLU is an important step in learning how the travel ban has been interpreted and implemented at Canadian airports by U.S. officials, and the impact upon innocent travelers,” says Sukanya Pillay, Executive Director and General Counsel of the CCLA.

“CCLA is concerned that individuals have been turned away at borders or detained.  We are also concerned by reports that laptop, cellphone, and social media passwords were collected.”

The impact until now of the ban on travelers has been widespread and the implementation of the EO from the beginning has been uneven causing confusion about its scope and validity. Guidance from other relevant actors also offered little clarity.

That lack of clarity led the Canadian government last week to say, according to the CBC, that it was investigating whether the enforcement of the EO violates Canadian laws.

The ACLU’s request covers 15 international airports that provide pre-clearance services to travelers to the U.S., including nine in Canada:

  1. Calgary International Airport
  2. Edmonton International Airport 
  3. Halifax Robert L. Stanfield International Airport
  4. Montreal Trudeau International Airport 
  5. Ottawa MacDonald-Cartier International Airport 
  6. Lester B. Pearson International Airport 
  7. Vancouver international Airport International Terminal
  8. Victoria International Airport 
  9. Winnipeg International Airport

The ACLU is requesting all electronic records, including text messages and e-mails, as well as any formal documentation, meeting minutes, or other communication directed toward CBP officials at pre-clearance centres in order to provide the public with a clear understanding of CBP’s interpretation, enforcement, and implementation of the travel ban at airports providing pre-clearance for travelers to the United States. 

The request also covers records concerning the number of individuals detained, subjected to visa revocation, denied admission, or otherwise questioned or affected by the EO at pre-clearance stations.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association fully supports the ACLU’s freedom of information request to provide clarity to travelers from and through Canada.

“This request is an important accountability measure and check on government powers” said Pillay, “Transparency and a clear understanding of rules is a bulwark against unlawful discrimination and overreach.”  

CCLA works with ACLU as part of the International Network of Civil Liberties Organizations to promote fundamental rights and freedoms around the globe.

Since the Jan. 27, release of the travel ban, CCLA has made clear its concerns on the effects the ban will have on travellers from and through Canada. We released a statement with eight concrete calls to action for the Canadian government in response to Trump’s executive order and voiced serious concern about protecting refugees. 

The full FOIA request is available here.

Media contacts:

Sukanya Pillay
Executive Director and General Counsel

Jamil Dakwar
Director, Human Rights Program