The “Proud to aid and abet refugees” campaign aims to end the threat of prosecutions against refugee workers.
The arrest in September of refugee worker Janet Hinshaw-Thomas, charged with people-smuggling, has caused shock waves through the refugee-serving community, as people realize that they too could be prosecuted for their work helping refugees. Although the charges against Ms Hinshaw-Thomas were dropped, the threat of such charges will continue to hang over the heads of those who help refugees, until the law is changed. In December 2007, another humanitarian worker, Margaret de Rivera, was threatened with prosecution if she accompanied further refugees to the border.
The Canadian Council for Refugees invites organizations and individuals to join the campaign and take action to ensure that the law is changed so that no one else acting on humanitarian motives will be charged for aiding and abetting refugees.
Goals of the campaign:
- A commitment from the government not to prosecute people acting on humanitarian motives.
- A review by the government of section 117 cases currently pending, with respect to possible humanitarian motives.
- An amendment to the law.
The CCR invites organizations that are directly involved in refugee protection in Canada and that support the goals of the campaign to sign up as supporters of the "Proud to aid and abet refugees" campaign.
Here are some proposed actions for organizations that aid and abet refugees:
- Send letters to the Attorney General, the Minister of Public Safety and the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration stating that your organization 'aids and abets' refugees and asking for measures to prevent future prosecutions of people who aid and abet refugees on humanitarian motives. A model letter is available (in word).
- Register your organization as an organization that aids and abets refugees and that supports the CCR's 'Proud to Aid and Abet' campaign. In doing so, you are making a commitment to
promote the campaign in your local area and/or networks and to recruit additional campaign supporters. To register, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and the CCR office will send your organization campaign buttons and other promotional materials.
- Use the campaign logo and explanatory messages on this webpage to show that your organization is 'Proud to Aid and Abet' refugees.
For organizations that support the campaign though not directly involved in aiding and abetting refugees:
- Send letters to the Attorney General, the Minister of Public Safety and the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration asking for measures to prevent future prosecutions of people who aid and abet refugees on humanitarian motives. A model letter is available (in word).
To mobilize individuals to support the campaign:
- Gather signatures to the petition asking for measures to prevent future prosecutions of people who aid and abet refugees on humanitarian motives. Once you have at least 25 signatures, take the petition a local Member of Parliament, asking them to table the petition in the House of Commons. (Even if they don't want to table the petition, this is a good opportunity to make the MP aware of concerns).
On 26 September 2007 Janet Hinshaw-Thomas was arrested at the Lacolle (Québec) border point. Ms Hinshaw-Thomas is the director of PRIME - Ecumenical Commitment to Refugees, a US church based refugee-serving organization. She had come to the border to accompany 12 Haitians who wanted to make a refugee claim in Canada. She was not acting clandestinely, nor was she acting for profit. She was detained overnight and charged the next day in court under section 117 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
S. 117 states that “No person shall knowingly organize, induce, aid or abet the coming into Canada of one or more persons who are not in possession of a visa, passport or other document required by this Act.”
The 12 Haitians were admitted into Canada to pursue their claims, according to the law.
The charges, the first laid in Canada against a humanitarian worker for people smuggling, led to strong public indignation. Among those expressing their grave concerns were:
The charges against Janet Hinshaw-Thomas were dropped – without explanation – on 8 November. However, the threat of similar charges exists as long as the law is not amended. In fact, in December 2007, Margaret de Rivera was threatened with prosecution at the St Stephen, NB, port of entry for accompanying refugee claimants to the border (see 17 January release).
Promises in Parliament
During parliamentary debate on the bill that became the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, concerns were raised that the people smuggling provisions could be used against individuals acting on humanitarian motives to help refugees.
Government officials assured Members of Parliament that the law contains an adequate safeguard against such prosecutions because the Attorney General must consent to any charges laid (s. 117(4)) (Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, 17 May 2001).
Elinor Caplan, then Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, also reassured the parliamentary committee studying the bill: “When it can be proven that someone assisted for humanitarian reasons, such as people fleeing persecution, the Minister of Justice does not prosecute in those cases. Often it is church groups and organizations that help people.” (Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, 25 October 2001).
In fact, the government now says that the Attorney General no longer needs to give consent. This power has recently been delegated to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada. (Letter from the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, 13 December 2007)
Proposal for legislative amendment
The following is a proposal for amendment to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to ensure that those acting on humanitarian motives will not be prosecuted. The amendment is the text in bold and underlined.
117. (1) No person shall knowingly and for material benefit organize, induce, aid or abet the coming into Canada of one or more persons who are not in possession of a visa, passport or other document required by this Act.
(4) (a) No proceedings for an offence under this section may be instituted except by or with the written consent of the Attorney General of Canada.
(b) The Attorney General of Canada may not delegate the power conferred by this subsection.
Campaign overview (two pager outlining the campaign and the suggested actions)
Proud to aid and abet refugees, Backgrounder (15 pages, more detailed information, copies of correspondence)
Model letter (in word) for organizations that aid and abet refugees.
Model letter (in word) for other organizations.
CCR release, New threats of prosecution for helping refugees, 17 January 2008
CCR - Amnesty International media release, Launch of “proud to aid and abet refugees” campaign, 29 November 2007
Globe and Mail op ed, Are we all smugglers now?, 9 October 2007