Comments on Study on Organized Crime, conducted by the office of the Solicitor General

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10 September 1998

 

Mr Andy Scott
Solicitor General of Canada
340 Laurier Ave. West
Ottawa, ON, K1A 0P8

RE: STUDY ON ORGANIZED CRIME

 

Dear Mr Scott,

I am writing to comment on your announcement of August 24 on the study on organized crime and the highlights of this study available on your department's web site. The Canadian Council for Refugees is extremely disturbed by the parts relating to refugees, which are very weak in terms of fact and analysis, fail to take account of Canada's international human rights obligations and tend to promote xenophobia against refugees.

The highlights of the Organized Crime Impact Study reveal a lack of proper information and understanding of the issues related to migrant trafficking. According to the study, 70% of refugee claims are accepted in Canada. In fact, the acceptance rate was 70% in 1995, but fell to 44% in 1996 and 40% in 1997. The author cites "experts" as his source for the 70% figure. The credibility of the study is seriously undermined by the author's dependence on "experts" who are not even aware of basic and publicly available statistics about refugee determination in Canada.

The author goes on to assume that all of the 30% of claimants he believes rejected would have come to Canada using organized criminal people smugglers. This is a completely unfounded assumption.

The study then proposes 16,000 as an upper-range estimate of people smuggled into Canada, on the basis of the Auditor General's report stating that 60% of refugee claimants were undocumented and "expert opinion" which considers these people likely to have used people smugglers. This unsophisticated calculation involves a number of highly debatable premises.

We note also that the study focuses its section on migrant trafficking entirely on refugee claimants, despite the fact that non-refugee claimants are also known to be using people smugglers.

Our deepest concern with the study is the complete failure to take into account the human rights issues. Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution. Canada has made international commitments to protect the rights of those fleeing persecution. It is recognized that refugees may need to use illegal means to escape persecution and the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, to which Canada is a signatory, prohibits states from penalizing refugees for illegal entry or presence in a country to which they have come directly from the place where they feared persecution. For many refugees, using false papers provided by migrant traffickers is the only way they can leave their country and reach a place where they can be protected from serious human rights abuses.

By failing to consider the human rights dimension, the study treats all refugee claimants, including those who are in fact refugees, as social and economic problems. This attitude, which is extremely hurtful to refugees, is not, as we understand it, the position of the Canadian government.

In its analysis the study furthermore fails to consider the role of Canadian interdiction measures in the development of organized migrant trafficking. The Canadian government imposes visa requirements on citizens of most of the world's countries. While these requirements may have legitimate purposes in preventing arrivals of travellers who will not be allowed into Canada, they also set up barriers against refugees who are fleeing for their lives. In recent years Canada has increased and strengthened its interdiction measures, notably through carrier sanctions and its immigration control network. These measures are completely blind to whether those interdicted are refugees, that is people exercising their basic human right to flee persecution. The existence of these measures clearly increases the need for those fleeing persecution to have recourse to migrant traffickers.

Finally, we must underline the very unfortunate consequences of the release of the study on public attitudes towards refugees, one of the most vulnerable groups in Canadian society, and one that is subjected to xenophobia and racism. Public bias on refugee issues can be seen from the fact that much press coverage on the report focused almost exclusively on the migrant trafficking issue, despite the fact that the estimated cost in dollars, according to the study, is only a small fraction of the cost of other areas of organized crime. In this context, it is particularly important that information be carefully and accurately presented, with a view to avoiding sensationalization and criminalization of refugees. We therefore very much regret the fact that your press release speaks of "illegal immigrants" when referring to a group of people that includes refugees. The portrayal of refugees as economic and social problems for Canada is similarly extremely damaging to public goodwill towards refugees, as well as to refugees' own sense of the Canadian government's attitude towards them.

The CCR requests a copy of the full report as well as information about the sources of information on which the section dealing with migrant trafficking is based. We note that the CCR, an umbrella organization with 140 members across the country, many of them working directly with refugees and refugee claimants, has access to a wealth of expert opinion on these matters, which we would be happy to make available to you.

Yours sincerely,

Francisco Rico-Martinez

President

cc. Lucienne Robillard, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration

Gerry Van Kessel, Director General, Refugee Branch, CIC

UNHCR Ottawa Branch

Sep 1998