OTTAWA — Air Canada staff followed procedure when they held back a British member of Parliament for extra questions during a recent diplomatic trip to Canada, the airline said in a statement on Wednesday.
Labour MP Mohammad Yasin was pulled aside for questioning at London's Heathrow Airport while other lawmakers he was travelling with were allowed through. He was stopped again at airports in Montreal and Toronto.
Clive Betts, another Labour MP, rose in the British House this week to say that Yasin was stopped and questioned by Air Canada and Canadian government staff, and that the incident was "racist and Islamophobic" in nature.
"He was told this because his name was Mohammad," Betts told the House.
An authorized government agency prompted the additional screening procedures before Yasin's flight, the airline said.
"After receiving such a prompt, we followed the prescribed procedures for this customer and, although this resulted in some discomfort for him, for which we have apologized, the customer was cleared and able to board and stay on his travel schedule," Air Canada said in the statement.
Betts said Yasin also received an apology from the parliamentary secretary to Canada's federal immigration minister, who did not respond to a request for a comment.
Requests for comment from several government departments were referred to Canada Border Services Agency, which said it would not comment on an individual case for privacy reasons.
"All travellers, foreign nationals and those who enter Canada by right, may be referred for secondary inspection," the agency said in a statement.
Yasin was travelling to Canada as part of a delegation from a parliamentary housing committee last week when he was stopped at Heathrow Airport.
The MP was questioned about whether he was carrying a knife and where he was born, despite already having a visa to enter Canada, said Betts, who is the chair of the committee.
The same issues were raised again when the delegation arrived at the airport in Montreal, he said.
On the way back to London, at Pearson International Airport in Toronto, Betts said Yasin was "challenged" again, but was able to board his flight with the assistance of the British consulate-general in that city.
Air Canada says it gave Yasin "extra assistance" to board his flight home to the U.K.
After Betts's comments in the House, the British deputy Speaker Roger Gale said Yasin's experience was "wholly unacceptable under any circumstances."
"It's particularly concerning, occurring as it did in the course of official travel on parliamentary business."
Ralph Goodale, Canada's high commissioner to the United Kingdom and a former minister of public safety, said he has invited Yasin to Canada House in London to talk about the ordeal.
"The events we have seen described in the media are disturbing," Goodale said Wednesday. "No one should be made to feel unwelcome in Canada due to their heritage, skin colour, orientation or faith."
The government also reached out to Air Canada after it heard about the incident, Transport Minister Pablo Rodriguez said Wednesday on his way into a Liberal caucus meeting.
"Air Canada apologized and apologizing was the right thing to do," Rodriguez said.
Canada's special representative on combating Islamophobia called Yasin's experience a "distressing flashback from post-9/11."
Amira Elghawaby posted the comment on X, the social-media platform formerly known as Twitter.
"We cannot go back down a road where communities are suspected of wrongdoing simply because of their faith or ethnicity," she said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 25, 2023.
Laura Osman, The Canadian Press