May 8, 2017
Image: Karl Nerenberg
The Trudeau government’s commitment to refugees is inconsistent and, at times, hypocritical.
It can be justly proud of opening the doors to Syrian refugees and restoring the health care for all refugees and asylum seekers that the Harper government cut. And while they have not abrogated the safe third country agreement with the U.S., as such groups as Amnesty Canada have urged, the Liberals government did not heed the Conservatives and put a stop to the flow of asylum seekers fleeing Donald Trump’s America through non-official border crossings.
However, under Trudeau, Canadian officials have continued some anti-refugee policies that were initiated by previous Liberal governments and hardened by the Harper Conservatives. One of those is the longstanding practice of preventing potential refugees from ever getting onto Canadian soil.
In 2014 we reported, in this space, on a Harvard study that outlined how, for many years, the Canadian government has posted a well-resourced team of officials aboard whose sole task is to identify potential asylum seekers on their way to Canada and deter them.
The study estimates that these officials, oxymoronically called Liaison Officers, had intercepted 73,000 such people in the period from 2001 to 2012, although no official records are kept. The same study also points out that the government of Canada puts considerable pressure on airline and other transport companies to weed out potential migrants to Canada who might claim refugee status when they get here.
Bulgarian prime minister Boyko Borissov referred to Roma as “bad human material” while addressing the 2014 European People’s Party Congress in Dublin, Ireland on 6 March 2014; photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/eppofficial/ – http://www.flickr.com/photos/eppofficial/12978298614/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31651158
The companies all too enthusiastically comply. According to an article published on May 6th in the Toronto Star, airlines that operate flights from European cities to Canada have, of late, been systematically kicking off Roma (Gyspy) travellers from Hungary, Slovakia and other eastern European countries.
The fact that these travellers have valid travel documents and paid-up tickets — and that Canada does not require visas for travellers from their countries of origin — does not protect them. Airlines have the right to deny access to anyone without necessarily providing any reason.
Collaboration between the Canadian government and the airlines
Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) officials admit that they provide training and advice to airlines on detecting, in their words, “improperly documented” travellers, but argue that the decision to bar anyone is up to the airlines, not the government.