The number of deportations from Canada has increased by an unprecedented 50 per cent in the last decade. Statistics released by the federal government under the Access to Information Act earlier this month show that Canadian Border Services deported 12,732 individuals last year, up from 8,361 removals in 1999.
Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, criticized the federal government’s approach to refugee claimants.
“What we saw and heard was that there was an increase in the budget allocation to respond to the September 11 attacks and demands for new security measures. More money went for more detentions and removals,” said Dench. “They had more money and because of that they do more deportations.”
Dench also criticized the refugee application process, noting the inability of refugee claimants to appeal decisions made by the Immigration Board of Canada. The decision to accept or decline an application is currently made by a single decision-maker – something Dench viewed as a major flaw in the system.
“The problem in the refugee system, its failure, is that it doesn’t have an appeal [process] at the moment…. Canadians get an appeal on all manner of things – even parking tickets. But in the case of refugees, for those whose lives may be at stake, there is no appeal,” said Dench.
Last Thursday, a Montreal family of four was deported to the United States – where they face probable deportation to Bangladesh – after their final bid for permanent residency on humanitarian and compassionate grounds was refused by Immigration Canada late last month.
Ranjit Dey Roy, Ranta Ranni Dey Roy, and their two sons had arrived from Bangladesh in 2004 after fleeing persecution for their religious beliefs, but their application for refugee status was rejected the following year. Members of Parliament Lise Zarac and Thierry St-Cyr met with Minister of Immigration and Citizenhip Jason Kenney on Wednesday to request an emergency stay of deportation for the family but were unsuccessful.
The family received support from the Montreal Immigrant Workers Center and Hindu Association of Montreal during their stay in Quebec. Mostafa Henaway of the Montreal Immigrant Workers Center suggested that the family’s case was one of many that indicate the growing trend of hasty deportations.
“The fact that deportations are up by 50 per cent is very clear that the Conservative government has actually been making enforcement [of deportation] their major policy drive,” Henaway said, stating that the immigration officer who handled the Roy family case had overlooked the dangers the family might face in Bangladesh.
“The problem is that [the system] is so arbitrary…. There was not even a written decision as to why [the Roy family] were refused,” said Henaway.
“It is very clear that Canada is disregarding the actual safety of people’s lives, from 76 Tamil refugees off the coast of Vancouver, to the Mexican women who was killed [after she was deported]. These people are not in the few, they are in the many,” Henaway added.
Though Kenney declined to comment on the increase in the number of deportations, the federal government has suggested that the spike in deportations is a result of a rising number of refugee claims in Canada.
But statistics from the Immigration and Refugee Board suggest that the number of individuals seeking refugee status in Canada has dropped recently: 35,000 claims were received last year, significantly lower than the 44,000 claims in 2001, and the 39,000 claims in 2002.
Obiora Chinedu Okafor, a law professor at Osgoode Hall, commented that the federal government’s practices demonstrate that the enforcement of deportation orders is a growing priority.
Okafor also said that a growing focus on enforcement could easily overlook the risks faced by individual claimants.
“Anytime that you are enforcement-minded, mistakes are bound to happen,” said Okafor.
Individuals facing deportation can apply for a Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA) which allows claimants to present new evidence of risks they may face if sent back to the home country.
Okafor felt, however, that the PRRA process was problematic. “It is not an appeal, just an assessment, done by immigration officers, not by someone who is independent,” he said.
Okafor also took issue with the Canadian government’s willingness to deport individuals to countries with shoddy human rights track records.
Most deported individuals are sent to the U.S. and Mexico, although hundreds have also been sent to countries known to violate human rights, such as China, Pakistan, Haiti, and Zimbabwe.
“It is shocking but in the past we have deported people to places where even immigration officers would not go to. If the place is not safe enough for Canadian officers to go to, then how can we deport people there? Even if they are convicted criminals, convicted criminals have rights,” said Okafor.