April 26, 2017
Syrian refugees cross into Hungary underneath the Hungary–Serbia border fence, 25 August 2015, credit: Gémes Sándor/SzomSzed – http://szegedma.hu/hir/szeged/2015/08/migransok-szazai-ozonlenek-roszkerol-szegedre.html, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42990919
Indefinite immigration detention
Of course, the reception for refugees who make it to Canada is not a rosy picture either, as witnessed by the ongoing detention of thousands of refugees annually, some for indefinite periods. At a court hearing in Toronto last week, Ontario judge Ian Nordheimer heard about the case of Kashif Ali, originally from West Africa, who has spent over seven years in immigration detention, with stretches in solitary confinement lasting over three months, beatings, and regular, humiliating strip searches. Nordheimer asked government lawyers whether Ali could be held for the rest of his natural life if his situation is not resolved. He received no direct response.
The utter disregard for the most basic human rights of those seeking asylum in Canada was revealed in a recent Toronto Star investigation that revealed border officers have no clue how to assess whether individuals should be detained in the first place, and that those being placed in maximum security jails for indefinite stays are often sent there by agents like the one who wrote in an assessment form: “I am not a medical or mental health professional. I have not received any training on the completion of the form. This assessment is cursory in nature and should not be construed as an accurate representation of the subject’s risk or mental health status.”
The results are predictably disastrous, and all too commonplace. As Global News reported earlier this week, one immigrant in detention spent over a year in solitary confinement for undefined “bizarre” behaviour, and by day 390 of being in the hole, he was assessed as “catatonic.” The UN defines 15 days or more in solitary as torture.
The Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA), which annually spends well over $100 million on detaining and deporting refugees, is considering potential policy changes with respect to immigration detention. Their National Immigration Detention Framework on the one hand talks about alternatives to detention, but also seeks an investment “in federal immigration detention infrastructure,” which essentially means that the government will continue to detain refugees, but with different buildings and what it alleges will be “improved conditions.”
Syrian refugees in Lebanon living in cramped quarters (6 August 2012), credit: Voice of America News: Margaret Besheer reports from the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli; “Syrian Refugees Seek Out Smugglers”. – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oWvHr-0BXhc&feature=plcp, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21078167
From 2011-2016, the CBSA detained 38,868 human beings, including hundreds of children (554 kids were officially detained during 2014-16).
The Trudeau Liberals have contracted the Canadian Red Cross to conduct visits to immigration detention facilities, but their assessments are confidential and will only be shared with government officials, contradicting the CBSA’s promises of increased accountability and transparency. Last month, Senators Mobina Jaffer and Victor Oh called on Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to explain why the feds didn’t arrange for an independent oversight body or ombudsperson.
Meanwhile, Citizens for Public Justice published a report earlier this month documenting frustrations with refugee sponsorship, “A Half Welcome: Delays, Limits and Inequities in Refugee Sponsorship.” Based on interviews and a survey of Sponsorship Agreement Holders (SAH), the report found:
“[t]he current protracted nature of application processing very concerning. Many also call for attention to the long wait currently impacting many non-Syrian applications, considering the government’s plan to resettle many Syrian refugees in 2015 and 2016. SAHs consider this to be inequity in private sponsorship, and urge the government to ensure more balance in this regard. SAHs also raised concerns about the allocation limits placed on the resettlement of privately sponsored refugees in 2017, noting that this impedes refugees’ safety.”
But the problem facing refugees going forward is that Trudeau already got his photo-ops with the first arrivals of Syrian refugees. He doesn’t need them anymore. While they were welcome images, the airport photo shoot was indicative of the way he uses whole groups — women, Indigenous people, refugees, Muslims — as props for his own self-aggrandizement, garnering quick selfies that can be used for the 2019 election campaign and Liberal fundraising pitches. Trudeau says or tweets what he thinks are the right words, basks in the applause of those who praise him in comparison to Trump, and then trots off to New York meetings where fawning “journalists” ask where his Superman cape is. He is living the ultimate privileged white male fantasy, in which the oppressed of the world are asked to applaud this white saviour for paying lip service to their existence, without having to commit to anything real or substantive.
But in the real world, harm results from Trudeau’s policy choices. As the student research-a-thon concluded: “Under international law, a country cannot transfer refugees to a state it knows to be in violation of the Refugee Convention. The ‘Travel Ban’ and other executive orders are flagrant violations of the Refugee Convention and as such, Canada’s refusal to admit refugees at the U.S.-Canada border is itself a violation of international law.”
On an individual level, Ottawa’s Dima Siam says she sadly has little reason to be optimistic about her fate. However, she is quick to note that “what I have been through did not change the way I think of Canada, especially with all the positive and big-hearted people who have been supporting, fighting, petitioning for me getting justice and welcoming me in Canada.”
Matthew Behrens is a freelance writer and social justice advocate who co-ordinates the Homes not Bombs non-violent direct action network. He has worked closely with the targets of Canadian and U.S. ‘national security’ profiling for many years.