By: Sarah Jama
The first time I travelled out of Canada was in December of last year, when I went to Ecuador for a festival. I was randomly selected for a search four times before I got onto a plane to Houston, and randomly selected for a search another two times before I got onto a plane to Ecuador. I travelled with ten other people, but was one of the two people in my group of friends to be searched at all.
The two of us were the only coloured ones. The searches were so extensive that security put on rubber gloves and picked through my hair with her fingers, and my walker was taken aside and scanned multiple times, maybe for hidden compartments. I was born and raised in Canada and I told them I was Canadian, but it didn’t matter. According to airport security, I was more likely than my white friends to be a terrorist or drug transporter.
A lot of this is why I feel bad for the 30-year-old assault-rifle collector from Pakistan who was arrested on allegations that he is a terrorist threat to Canada. Muhammad Ansari is now a person of interest in an investigation by the RCMP-led Integrated National Security Enforcement Team in Ontario.
This means that instead of just being charged for the crimes he committed, i.e. collecting rifles illegally, he is being investigated for acts of terrorism. His parents say he was a software engineer looking to escape violence in Pakistan. His friends say he is not a violent individual. There is no evidence to suggest that his hobby, though against the law, was tied to terrorism.
Terrorists exist. They attack, they hurt, and they kill. But as a black woman from a religious minority, I have to do the work of fearing terrorists and proving that I’m not one myself, leaving me in this awkward gray area. I have to be more careful about my hobbies, and careful in abiding by every single law, so that my mistakes aren’t looked at through a lens of terrorism. I have to be submissive and okay with being searched head to toe multiple times in airports before I can board a plane.
Maybe if someone had warned Muhammad Ansari about this gray area, he would have done away with his gun collecting hobby earlier.