MP stopped from boarding flight to Canada ‘because he was called Mohammed’

An MP was unable to board a flight to Canada “because his name was Mohammed”, Parliament has heard.

Labor MP for Bedford Mohamed Yassin was due to fly to Canada with a group of other MPs from the Community Accounts, Housing and Communities Committee when he was delayed for extra questioning.

Mr. Yasin was asked if he was carrying a knife or any other weapon and where he was born when he was pulled aside by Air Canada officials.

He was subjected to similar questioning by officials on his return journey to the UK, MPs were told.

Clive Betts, the Labor caucus chairman, raised the incident in the Commons and said he would write to the Canadian High Commissioner to the UK to make clear that the “racist and Islamophobic nature” of what happened was unacceptable.

Mr Yasin watched from the Labor benches as Mr Betts raised a procedural point about the “serious incident”, which he said happened last week.

The chairman of the committee said: “When the committee checked in for their flights at Heathrow, all members made it through with the exception of the member for Bedford, who was delayed for questioning for a long time.

“They told him it was because his name was Mohammad.”

Mr Betts added: “He was also asked if he carried a knife or other offensive weapon, he was also asked where he was born. The interrogation was conducted by Air Canada officials and we believe the Canadian government, and even though he had already been granted a visa to enter Canada.

“After he proved he was an MP with the help of my committee officer, he was finally allowed through.

“At the Montreal airport, the same issues were raised by Canadian immigration.

“On the way back to the Toronto airport on the way back, he was challenged again and boarded his flight with the help of my consul general, who was very helpful.”

Mr. Betts continued: “He received an apology from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Canadian Minister of Immigration and Air Canada, however, given the racist and Islamophobic nature of these challenges, I believe it is worth writing to the Canadian High Commissioner, who I will.

“I think it is important to put these concerns on the parliamentary record. It was completely unacceptable for a Member of this House to be treated in this way.

“But because he was an MP, he was allowed on his flight. If, however, it had been one of our voters who had been so challenged, it might have been rejected.

“We raised the issue with our High Commissioner in Ottawa, who was very supportive and was surprised at what happened given the multicultural nature of Canada as an open and welcoming country.

“He raised it with the Canadian government and … I would also raise it with Parliament to try to make sure that no one in the future is treated this way.”

His deputy Sir Roger Gale replied: “I am sure that the whole House will share the disappointment at the Member's treatment of Bedford.

“It is completely unacceptable under any circumstances.

“But it is particularly worrying, as it happened, during official travel on parliamentary business.”

Speaking outside the courtroom, Mr Yasin said: “It was stressful and humiliating to be singled out so aggressively from immigration control, especially when you are traveling in groups as a representative of the British Parliament on long-term Commission work.

“While I don't expect special treatment as an MP, it does concern me that if I wasn't an MP, how much worse the experience could have been.”

An Air Canada spokesperson said: “Unfortunately Mr. Yassin was designated for additional screening prior to his flight following a security check, but he was still able to travel as scheduled as he was quickly removed.

“We are monitoring the handling of this particular matter internally to ensure that procedures were properly followed and have also been in contact with UK and Canadian authorities.

“We regret any inconvenience or inconvenience this situation may have caused Mr Yasin and we apologize.”