|For Immediate Release|
|17 January 2008|
|New threats of prosecution for helping refugees|
Another humanitarian refugee worker has been threatened by the Canadian government with prosecution for assisting refugees, the Canadian Council for Refugees reported today. The threats follow charges for people-smuggling laid (and subsequently dropped) last fall against Janet Hinshaw-Thomas, a US-based refugee worker.
On 14 December 2007, Margaret de Rivera, a Quaker volunteer from Maine, accompanied two Haitians to the border point at St Stephen, NB, where they made a refugee claim. A Canadian immigration official told Ms de Rivera that she would be arrested and prosecuted under s. 117 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, which criminalizes people-smuggling, if she came back again with refugee claimants. The two Haitians were allowed to make their refugee claim, as they are entitled to under the law. Ms de Rivera and the informal refugee support group to which she belongs act on humanitarian grounds and do not charge any money to the refugees they help, even to defray costs.
“These recent threats of criminal charges mean that the Canadian government is continuing its attempts to intimidate those who help refugees, despite the broad public outcry last fall against the prosecution of Janet Hinshaw-Thomas,” said Liz McWeeny, CCR President. “We need the law to be changed so that is not a crime to help refugees. We call on the government and opposition parties to work together to amend the law.”
In response to the prosecution of Janet Hinshaw-Thomas, letters were sent by a number of former Attorneys General and Ministers of Immigration and by leaders of faith communities. No response has been received from any of the Ministers addressed. The only response has been from an official in the Public Prosecution Service of Canada who confirmed that the Attorney General’s consent for prosecution is no longer required, because it has been delegated to the Public Prosecution Service.
When the current law was being debated in Parliament, Members of Parliament were assured that the requirement of consent by the Attorney General would protect against prosecution of humanitarian workers.
Last fall, the CCR and Amnesty International requested a meeting about this issue with the Ministers of Public Safety, Citizenship and Immigration and Justice. No response has been received.
Further information about the issue and the “Proud to aid and abet campaign”, including the letters mentioned above and a proposed legislative amendment, is available at www.ccrweb.ca/aidandabet.