22 October 2009
The Honourable Jason Kenney, P.C., M.P.
Minister for Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism
Citizenship and Immigration Canada
Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 1L1
The Honourable Peter Van Loan, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Public Safety Canada
Public Safety Canada
269 Laurier Avenue West
Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0P8
We are writing to express our grave concern at media reports that Canadian government authorities have been collaborating with Sri Lankan authorities in establishing the identity of the 76 individuals who recently arrived by boat on the West Coast. Given that these persons appear to be claiming Canada’s protection as refugees, such collaboration with the government of the country from which they fled is completely inappropriate.
As you know, personal information about refugee claimants must be kept confidential. This principle is recognized internationally, including in numerous Conclusions of the UNHCR Executive Committee, as well as in Canada’s own legislation, which provides for refugee hearings before the Immigration and Refugee Board to be held in private. This is for the protection both of the persons who are making a claim and of others such as family members or colleagues who might be put at risk if claimant information is disclosed.
It is particularly dangerous for information to be shared with government authorities from the country that the claimants fled. In many cases the government is the persecutor.
It is well documented that many serious human rights abuses have been committed by the Sri Lankan government. Numerous Sri Lankans have been recognized as refugees after making a claim in Canada (nearly 1,000 in 2008 alone). Sharing information with the Sri Lankan government about claimants may put them or their family members at risk. Information obtained from the Sri Lankan government about claimants in Canada may be unreliable, given that government’s implication in human rights abuses.
We were extremely disturbed to read in the National Post today the name of one of the passengers on board alleged to be “wanted in Sri Lanka for terrorism”. The newspaper attributed its information to “two sources familiar with the investigation”. We request that you make internal investigations to ascertain whether this dangerous leak came from a government source, and ensure no further personal information on any of the passengers is released to the media.
We ask you to take vigorous measures to ensure that all relevant government agencies have in place policies prohibiting inappropriate communications with foreign governments about refugee claimants, and that these policies are respected.
Elizabeth McWeeny Alex Neve
President, Canadian Council for Refugees Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada