Press Release


November 23, 2021


Announcement: New funding received by York University’s Refugee Law Lab to work with Air Passenger Rights and University of New Brunswick law professor to investigate racial profiling by Canadian government at airports abroad

Toronto, ON, (November 23, 2021) – York University’s Refugee Law Laboratory is delighted to announce that it has received funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) to work with Air Passenger Rights, Canada’s independent nonprofit consumer advocacy group for air travellers, and University of New Brunswick law professor Benjamin Perryman, to undertake a joint research project about the Canadian government’s use of racial profiling to prevent some people from travelling to Canada.

In 2016, the Canadian government made it mandatory for Canada-bound air travellers to get pre-authorization for their travel. Before boarding a plane, non-Canadian citizens must apply for and receive an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA). An eTA is a mini-visa granted by a largely automated system. Each applicant is digitally cross-referenced against lists of “threats” to Canada’s security and the integrity of its immigration system. If a person is on a list, they are not issued an eTA and not allowed to board a plane. The eTA is part of a Beyond the Border strategy that extends the effective border beyond Canada’s territorial limits. One of the purposes of this strategy is to prevent the arrival in Canada of refugee claimants.

Air Passenger Rights, in the context of ongoing litigation, has discovered that the Canadian government appears to be racially profiling travellers and cancelling their eTAs to deboard perceived refugees from planes. Using targeting methodologies, private airline security forces and overseas enforcement officers search out indicators that a person will make a refugee claim once they arrive. One particularly problematic indicator is whether passengers are associated with refugees — implying that the Canadian government views passengers who associate with refugees as unwelcome. If there are enough indicators, the otherwise legitimate eTA is revoked and the door to Canada is closed. APR has painstakingly obtained documentary evidence showing that Hungarian Roma passengers are disproportionately screened and deboarded. This appears to be part of a longer-term trend of racial discrimination towards Hungarian Roma passengers that precedes the establishment of the eTA. 

“There is a long history in Canada and in Europe of racial discrimination against members of Roma communities,” said Professor Sean Rehaag, Director of York University’s Refugee Law Laboratory. “This research project is necessary because the Canadian government continues to strenuously fight the release of information about the eTA program and how that program is applied to Roma passengers”, he added.

This project, which received $19,854 from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Partnership Engage Grant competition, will support research into this practice and explore whether Canada’s actions contravene domestic and international law.

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Air Passenger Rights is an independent, nonprofit organization of volunteers working to make the travelling public aware of its rights and capable of enforcing them. The organization’s mission is to turn helpless passengers into empowered travelers through education, advocacy, investigation, and litigation.


The Refugee Law Laboratory, based at York University’s Centre for Refugee Studies and Osgoode Hall Law School, undertakes research and advocacy related to new legal technologies and their impact on refugees, other displaced communities, and people on the move.


Sean Rehaag
Director & Associate Professor
Refugee Law Laboratory & Osgoode Hall Law School
York University 

Gabor Lukacs
Air Passenger Rights

Benjamin Perryman
Assistant Professor
Faculty of Law
University of New Brunswick 

Simon Wallace
Research Lawyer & PHD Candidate
Refugee Law Laboratory & Osgoode Hall Law School
York University