Once-admiring Americans decry today’s Canada
TheStar.com – Opinion/Commentary – A new Harvard study charts Canada’s transformation from a model of refugee protection to a closely guarded bastion.
Dec 05 2013. By: Carol Goar
Canada craves attention in the United States — but not this kind.
The Harvard Law School’s immigrant and refugee clinic has just completed a comprehensive examination of refugee treatment in Canada. Its researchers were taken aback by what they found. “Canada is systematically closing its borders to asylum seekers and failing in its refugee protection obligations under domestic and international law,” they concluded.
This will not come as a surprise to Canadians. Since 2006, Stephen Harper’s government has been incrementally tightening Canada’s borders and turning away increasing numbers of refugee claimants from countries with abysmal human rights records. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the pace accelerated sharply.
A succession of immigration and public safety ministers has insisted that Canada cannot afford to be a patsy or a chink in North America’s security armour.
The Harvard study echoes the concerns of their critics; refugee groups, human rights advocates, churches, charities and immigration lawyers. It reinforces their anecdotal evidence with rigorous academic analysis and strong language.
“This report points to an alarming trend,” said Deborah Anker, a professor at Harvard Law School and director of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic. “For decades, Canada was known for its generosity in refugee protection and served as a model that raised the standards of refugee protection worldwide, especially in the United States.”
Now, according to the 115-page study, the northern beacon has gone out.
“We hope this report serves as a wake-up call for Canada and the United States,” added Efrat Arbel, a graduate of Harvard Law School’s doctoral program and co-author of the report.
Rather than look at individual cases or statistical trends as refugee advocates on this side of the border do, the Harvard scholars zeroed in on the policies Ottawa has used to transform Canada from a welcoming nation to an inhospitable bastion. They pinpointed three:
- The first was the 2004 Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, which prevents asylum seekers who came to the U.S. first — even if they had a connecting flight connection to Canada — to make a refugee claim in this country. Since it was enacted, the number of claimants who reach the Canadian border has fallen precipitously.
- The second was the Multiple Borders Strategy, unveiled in 2002. It empowers Ottawa to use extraterritorial means to intercept unwanted migrants, preferably in their country of origin. Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) posts “liaison officers” in strategic offshore locations (principally airports) to block asylum seekers from boarding planes or boats bound for Canada. Part of their job is to enlist third-party carriers — airlines, railways and shipping companies — to reject passengers without proper documentation. None of these operations fall within the scope of theUnited Nations Convention on Refugees or Canadian law.
- The third was the imposition of visa restrictions on countries producing large numbers of refugee claimants. Ottawa recently used this tactic to choke off refugee flows from Mexico and the Czech Republic.
All these measures were enacted before Harper’s prime ministership. But his government has expanded them, intensified them and enforced them more rigidly than ever before. It has hired gatekeepers who understand that their role is to discourage claimants.
“Practitioners on both sides of the border described a prevailing attitude of suspicion and hostility, wherein asylum seekers are regularly demeaned and dismissed,” the investigators were told by human rights workers in Buffalo-Fort Erie, Champlain-Lacolle, Detroit-Windsor and Blaine-White Rock.
They asked to speak to representatives of Canadian Border Services and Citizenship and Immigration. Their requests were turned down.
“While Canada has a valid interest in regulating its borders to ensure refugee protection is reserved only for genuine refugee, neither the Safe Third Country Agreement nor the Multiple Borders Strategy effectively serves this interest,” they concluded. “Instead they deter, deflect and block asylum seekers from lawfully making refugees claims in arbitrary and unprincipled ways.”
The Harvard study does a better job of charting Canada’s metamorphosis from a sanctuary for people fleeing violent persecution to a locked-down nation than anything available in this country.
But there is one question its American authors do not — cannot — answer: How did ordinary Canadians harden their hearts against those who sought shelter in a brutal world?
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