COUNCIL FOR REFUGEES
26 October 2006
Right Hon. Stephen Harper
Prime Minister of Canada
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, K1A 0A2
Dear Prime Minister,
writing to you to inform you of the concerns of the Canadian Council
Refugees with respect to the decision to arm the officers of the Canada
Services Agency, which you announced on 31 August.
We believe that this will have a number of negative
officers of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) are the first
meet those entering Canada. Whether
they be returning Canadians, visitors, refugees or immigrants, those
at the border should be greeted by a representative of Canada embodying
of hospitality. An officer carrying a
gun conveys an immediate contrary message of suspicion and hostility
disappoint and unnerve many people. We
do not want immigrants arriving to start their new lives in Canada to
official carrying a gun as their first impression of the country.
note that people making refugee claims at border points are interviewed
officials who determine whether their claim is eligible to be heard by
Immigration and Refugee Board. We are
particularly concerned about the impact on refugees, many of whom have
compelling reasons to fear violence from persons in authority. For people who have experienced state
repression, the sight of armed border guards may be traumatizing and
more difficult for them to answer the questions posed to them,
questions about their refugee claim.
course appreciate the need to ensure the safety of border officials. However, we do not believe that it has been
adequately demonstrated that border officials are in fact at risk, or
are, that arming them is to be preferred to other available options. We note that carrying a gun may in fact
increase risks of violence and thus could perhaps reduce, rather than
the safety of officials, as well as of others around them.
We see the
arming of CBSA officials as a step towards the militarization of the
making the border a point of potential conflict and violence, when it
a place for creative exchange and meeting.
members have had opportunities to work alongside border officials and
aware that many are motivated by a desire to serve others and an
work with immigrants from around the world.
For some at least, it is difficult to reconcile carrying a gun
kind of motivation. We are anxious to
know whether CBSA officers will be required to be armed in order to
work for the agency. Will people’s
careers in CBSA be limited because they choose not to carry a gun?
question of motivation also raises concerns for us in terms of future
recruitment to the Agency. The CCR has
been concerned about the long term consequences of the split between
Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) and CBSA.
Currently, many CBSA officials were initially recruited to CIC
and entered the job with a commitment to serving immigrants. Over time, that connection will weaken, as a
larger proportion of CBSA is made up of officers who chose to join what
essentially an enforcement agency. The
arming of CBSA will accentuate this trend, since future recruits will
attracted to a job that entails carrying a gun. The
capacity of CBSA to maintain an appropriate balance between
enforcement and facilitation will be challenged as the composition of
staff is increasingly made up of people who see themselves as
officers, with fewer and fewer people who see themselves as immigration
questions about which Border Services Officers are expected to be armed. Is the government planning to arm officials
working at airports? Surely travellers
arriving by airplane can be assumed not to be carrying any weapons,
tight security at all airports.
Similarly, officers working in detention centres should not have
reason to be armed.
decision to arm border officials strengthens our concern about the lack
external complaints mechanism for the Canada Border Services Agency. It is the norm in Canada for organizations
with arrest and detention powers to have external supervisory
mechanisms. CBSA has no such mechanism. Yet, those facing enforcement action from
CBSA are among the most vulnerable in Canada.
Without permanent status in Canada, without networks of support
knowledge of Canadian systems, often not English- or French-speaking,
little ability to assert their rights.
In the case of persons deported, the chances of their being able
pursue any kind of recourse if they are mistreated are remote. The imbalance of power between the
non-citizen and the enforcing agency is thus very great, and even
the officers are armed. Such imbalance
of power creates the potential for abuse.
An effective and independent oversight mechanism is essential to
not only that power is not abused, but that it can be publicly seen not
As is clear
from the points we have raised, we are deeply concerned about the
arm border officials. It does not
reflect a Canada that relates to the outside world in a spirit of open
constructive engagement. We ask you to
reconsider your decision.
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