The federal government is putting border officials at Mississauga's Pearson International Airport through sensitivity training so they can more appropriately deal with Arab and Muslim passengers.
The Canada Border Services Agency is contracting out training sessions for up to 500 of its border services officers, stressing the need for those who screen passengers to "effectively perform their enforcement responsibilities in a respectful manner" at Canada's busiest hub.
Groups representing Canadian Arabs and Muslims are welcoming the sensitivity courses, scheduled between this September and March 31, 2009, as necessary and overdue.
"After 9/11 we became all potential terrorists without doubt, and we still have some examples of people being picked up from the line because they wear long beards or the hijab," said Mohamed Boudjenane, executive director of the Canadian Arab Federation. "It still happens on a regular basis."
He said his organization has held meetings with several government departments, including the federal border agency, to raise complaints of profiling and discrimination, and even delivered training kits to the CBSA last fall.
"That sort of proactive act, or measure, didn't come out of the blue. We had to lobby very hard with them to realize that you cannot (target certain groups) because you have preconceived perceptions or because there are all sorts of clichés out there."
Mohamed Elmasry, president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, said training courses are an "excellent idea" that are in line with the seminars and speeches that he has delivered to federal employees, including with the Canadian Air Transportation Safety Authority, over the last two years.
But he still hears complaints of Muslim and Arab passengers returning from certain Middle Eastern countries like Iran and Syria being subjected to greater scrutiny than Muslims and Arabs returning from European countries.
Those travellers are also more likely to have their luggage searched, to be questioned about their activities and purchases abroad and to have their passport information taken down, Elmasry said. [Link]
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