Media release

For immediate release

September 28, 2007


TORONTO - The Refugee Lawyers Association of Ontario today demanded that the Canadian government immediately drop all charges against a US humanitarian worker. The humanitarian worker, Janet Hinshaw-Thomas, was arrested at the Lacolle, Quebec border post on Wednesday, and yesterday was charged with people-smuggling for helping 12 Haitian asylum-seekers to come to the Canadian border and ask for refugee protection in Canada. Ms. Hinshaw-Thomas a 65-year old grandmother with two decades of experience as a humanitarian worker

"The arrest, detention and laying of charges against Ms. Hinshaw-Thomas are shocking and untenable," said Andrew Brouwer, spokesperson for the RLA. "They demonstrate utter disregard for fundamental human rights and refugee law. Throughout history, the people who help those fleeing persecution have been recognized as heroes – think of the Underground Railroad and the work of Raoul Wallenberg. The fact that our government has now laid charges against such a person should shock the conscience of all Canadians."

There is a significant difference between these profit-driven exploiters of people, and humanitarian workers such as Ms. Hinshaw-Thomas who help refugees find protection based on ethical or religious commitments, and not for profit. "It is very disturbing that our government is unable or unwilling to recognize the difference," said Mr. Brouwer.

In addition to demanding that the charges be dropped, the Refugee Lawyers Association calls on the Canadian government to either amend the provision, section 117 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, or issue policy guidelines on an urgent basis clearly stipulating that persons with humanitarian motives – including religious and humanitarian workers – are exempted from the provision, to ensure that this week’s arrest is not repeated.

The legislative provision under which Ms. Hinshaw-Thomas has been charged was the subject of vigorous debate during Parliamentary deliberations and public consultations several years ago. In 2000-2001, when the bill was before the House and the Senate, numerous refugee advocates expressed concern about the breadth of the language of the provision, warning that it could be used to prosecute people with humanitarian motives – including church and other humanitarian workers, refugee lawyers and even family members who assist refugees. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees warned at the time that the provision "may unfairly punish an individual … who assisted a refugee, perhaps even a family member, to flee persecution and reach safety in Canada." 1

When these concerns were raised by Parliamentarians, the then-Minister Elinor Caplan as well as her senior officials assured them that the provision would not be used against such persons, and that it was designed specifically to combat criminal people-smuggling organizations.2 It was with this assurance that Parliamentarians agreed to allow the provision to stand as drafted. The action taken against Ms. Hinshaw-Thomas is a direct violation of these assurances and demonstrates that the assurances are not sufficient to safeguard against future misguided prosecutions.

Instead of targeting humanitarian workers, the government should focus on the criminal gangs that exploit and abuse refugees and migrants, while ensuring that the rights of asylum seekers and other migrants are fully protected.


Contact: Andrew Brouwer, Barrister and Solicitor, 416-230-2614 / 416-653-2912

The Refugee Lawyers Association of Ontario is an organization of approximately 200 lawyers who practice refugee law and advocate on behalf of refugees.

Website: www.

1 UNHCR, Comments on Bill C-11, March 5, 2001, para 110

2 Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, 17 May 2001; 25 May 2001.