Press Release from Véhicule Press
Quill & Quire blog, June 14, 2008

Calgary Herald articles, June 16 and 17, 2008
Globe and Mail article, June 16, 2008

Jaspreet Singh on Véhicule Press website

Véhicule Press




Calgary author cancels festival appearance over Air Canada no-fly list

Published: Monday, June 16, 2008

STEPHEN HUNT

CALGARY - Calgary author and playwright Jaspreet Singh cancelled two appearances in Toronto on the weekend, when Air Canada failed to respond to a request to have Singh's name removed from a no-fly list.

Singh was scheduled to appear in Toronto at the prestigious Luminato Festival Saturday night and Book Expo on Sunday, but after attempts to use the self check-in at the Calgary airport failed, Singh left without boarding his flight rather than repeating a scenario that played out April 26 and May 9, when he was subjected to intense interviews with Air Canada officials prior to being allowed to board flights to Montreal and then back to Calgary.

After those earlier instances, Air Canada officials acknowledged that Singh is not a risk and he will be allowed to board flights, but they didn't provide an opportunity to have his name removed from the list so he worries he may be subjected to the same scrutiny every time be tries to board a plane. Officals haven't responded to a May 9 fax Singh sent to the airline asking for his name to be removed from the no-fly list.

Calls to Air Canada and Transport Canada for comment have not been returned. The 39-year-old author, who also has a Ph.D in chemical engineering from McGill, has lived in Canada for 20 years. His new novel Chef was recently No. 1 on the Calgary Herald bestseller list.

Devyani Saltzman, the literary co-ordinator of the Luminato Festival, read Singh's letter of explanation to an audience at Saturday evenings' reading, which was a showcase of new South Asian writing.

"He's grounded, basically," says Saltzman. "He's on a national book tour, and I think it's important that there's light brought to this issue — for him and for many people who it isn't written about.

"Luminato is behind him 100 per cent," she adds. "We did read the letter from the stage and had a lot of people coming up after very angry (about what happened)."




Local author seeks no-fly list answers

Published: Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Calgary novelist Jaspreet Singh has been told he's not a threat to air security, and even Transport Canada now agrees that he is not a danger. But several unnerving interrogations by airline officials have thrown him into a "Kafka-esque" situation that has kept him home in the middle of a promotional book tour.

As a result of his name appearing on a no-fly list -- although he still hasn't been told exactly which list -- the soft-spoken 39-year-old Calgary author and playwright cancelled two appearances at Toronto's Luminato Festival and Book Expo Canada on the weekend. He has also scrapped a Thursday book reading in Vancouver, and he even had to bow out of a sought-after writer's residence in Norway planned for later this year. The timing for Singh couldn't be much worse: his book is near the top of Calgary's bestseller lists, he's in the middle of a national publicity tour for his critically acclaimed first novel, Chef, and he has a lot of planes to catch.

"I want to know from the source that makes these lists, what list I am on," says Singh, the University of Calgary's Markin-Flanagan 2006-07 writer-in-residence.

"And why I am on any list, right?"

His plight began on April 26 when the writer headed to the Calgary International airport to catch a flight to Montreal. When Singh attempted to board his flight using the computerized self check-in, he was unsuccessful. Soon thereafter, he found himself being interviewed by an Air Canada employee, who asked for his passport.

"I said, 'I am Canadian,' " says the 39-year-old author, who also holds a Ph.D in chemical engineering, and has lived in Canada for 20 years.

" 'I don't carry my passport (for domestic flights).' "

Singh was then interviewed on the phone by a person who did not identify themselves, which also happened on his return flight on May 9.

"In both cases, they call some mysterious person and they ask you some questions, as if you are in a foreign country," he says.

" 'What is the street address of your employer?'

"My biggest question right now is that I was informed in Calgary, I was told that you are some sort of a list. In Montreal, I was told 'You are on a no-fly list.' But I want to know for sure. What list is this?"

No-fly lists were adopted in the U.S. and Canada after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in an attempt to keep logs of people considered a threat to air security.

After being questioned, Singh was allowed to board his flights and was told he was not considered a threat, but the experience has left him rattled and leery of attempting to board any more planes until he receives assurances from the airlines that it won't happen again.
Singh has since tried the formal channels to have his name removed from the list, but says he feels like he's trapped in a bureaucratic nightmare.

"It's absolutely Kafka-esque," Singh says. "Five weeks ago, I faxed a letter to Air Canada. They have made no response. And this for travel within the country."

Air Canada spokeswoman Angela Mah confirmed Monday that the airline received Singh's correspondence but said she couldn't comment on his specific case for privacy reasons. "I can tell you we've received correspondence from Mr. Singh and will be in contact with him directly," Mah said. In response to a question about why it was taking so long for airline to respond to Singh's letter, Mah said. "We've only just received it." Upon being informed that Singh faxed the airline on May 9, she said, "That I don't know about, but I can confirm we've received correspondence and will be in contact with him directly."

Further muddying the issue is the involvement of Transport Canada, which is responsible for compiling Canada's no-fly list. When contacted by the Herald on Monday, a Transport Canada spokesperson said Singh is not on Canada's no-fly list.

"This case does not relate to a Transport Canada program," said Transport Canada spokesperson Maryse Durette. "It would be inappropriate to provide any other details."

This has led to speculation that Singh's name may appear on the U.S Homeland Security no-fly list, which Canadian airlines also use, but which Transport Canada does not encourage airlines to use on domestic flights. Air Canada's spokesperson declined to answer if the airline uses the U.S. no-fly list on Canadian flights.

"For flights to and from the U.S.A., we are obligated by law to enforce the U.S. no-fly list," Mah said.

"I can certainly sympathize with Mr. Singh's situation, and we regret any inconveniences these measures may have (caused) . . . but in our experience, most of our customers appreciate that these added security measures are a precaution being taken for everyone's safety."

Replying to the news that he's not on Transport Canada's no-fly list, Singh had this to say: "It makes me feel better, but now I'm even more outraged at the silence of Air Canada."

Singh's case has caught the attention of the country's literary community. Devyani Saltzman, the literary coordinator at the Luminato Festival, read Singh's letter of explanation to the audience at Saturday evening's Toronto reading, which was a showcase of new South Asian writing.

"He's grounded, basically," says Saltzman. "He's on a national book tour, and I think it's important that there's light brought to this issue -- for him and for many people who it isn't written about.

"Luminato is behind him 100 per cent," she adds. "We did read the letter from the stage and had a lot of people coming up after very angry (about what happened)."