TORONTO – Stripping a woman of her airport security clearance based only on contacts police say she had with criminals they would not identify was unfair and unreasonable, Federal Court heard Monday.
The government’s decision, which cost Ayaan Farah her US Airways job at Toronto’s international airport, should be set aside, her lawyer argued.
“My client was an upstanding employee. She was never arrested. She was never charged with anything. There was nothing that occurred while at her work or outside her work that would have yielded any kind of skepticism or concern about any of her actions,” Mitchell Worsoff told the court.
“My client was essentially castigated because, in her network, some of those individuals had brushes with the law. One or two of those had very serious records.”
In April 2014, the government notified Farah, a customer service rep and ticketing agent, that the RCMP reported she had associated with criminals identified as subjects A, B, and C. Police, citing privacy concerns, have refused to name them. Farah says she does not know who they are, although her lawyer suggested one may be her brother.
According to police, two of the individuals used Farah’s car to go to a funeral for a known gang member. She was not in the car and did not attend the service. Police also said they interacted with her while she was in A’s company. She says she can’t remember ever being stopped by police.
Based on the RCMP information, the government revoked her transportation security clearance, prompting her dismissal from a job she’d had for eight years and used in part to help her sister through university.
“I didn’t do anything wrong — I’m not a criminal, I’ve never broken the law,” Farah said outside court. “If you’re going to lose your job because you know someone with a criminal record, then a lot of people need to lose their jobs, too.”
In court, Worsoff said his client had been found “guilty by association” without an oral hearing or proper chance to explain away the vague allegations against her.
“We’re working in a vacuum,” Worsoff told Judge Susan Elliott.
For his part, Department of Justice lawyer Stewart Phillips countered that the government had met an admittedly low standard in making a decision in the interests of public safety. The legislation requires only that the minister reasonably believe a person might be prone to, or induced to, do something that could unlawfully interfere with civil aviation, he told the judge.
“We’re not dealing with a criminal standard of proof,” Phillips said. “We have a connection of a very violent individual to the applicant.”
Farah had ample opportunity to respond in writing to the concerns and may not have been forthright, Phillips said.
Allowing the decision to stand, Worsoff countered, would “dangerously” lower standards for what is reasonable in such cases, and moved Canada “one step closer to a police state.”
Anyone working at an airport, he said, could lose a job through an inadvertent association and without evidence of wrongdoing.
Elliott reserved her ruling.
“I don’t get to start at the beginning and decide whether the (government’s) decision is right or wrong,” Elliott said. “My job is to decide whether the decision was reasonable.”