|For Immediate Release|
|27 September 2007|
|Prosecution of refugee advocate denounced|
The Canadian Council for Refugees today expressed outrage that the Canadian government is charging a U.S. humanitarian worker with people-smuggling for bringing 12 Haitians to the Canadian border to make refugee claims at the port of entry.
“This is a very grim day for Canada: we are now criminalizing the act of assisting refugees,” said Amy Casipullai, Vice-President. “By pressing charges against a person acting on purely humanitarian motives, the government is intimidating all those who assist refugees to seek the protection offered by Canadian laws.”
Janet Hinshaw-Thomas, a representative of PRIME - Ecumenical Commitment to Refugees, was arrested yesterday at the Lacolle border point, detained overnight in the immigration detention centre in Laval and brought to court in St Jean sur Richelieu, where she is to be charged under section 117 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. This 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.”
“This arrest calls into question, not the integrity of the churchworker but the credibility of the immigration system,” said Mary Jo Leddy, author, refugee advocate, Order of Canada. “If she can be arrested then who among church refugee workers is safe?”
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. Elinor Caplan, then Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, 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)
Charges laid under section 117 require the consent of the Attorney General of Canada. During debate government officials assured Members of Parliament that the requirement of consent is an adequate safeguard against prosecution of persons who are assisting refugees on humanitarian motives.(1)
“Mennonite Central Committee Canada is deeply concerned that this provision is now being applied to a faith-based refugee worker, which is a far cry from any illegal activity such as smuggling, which was the target of the legislation” said Ed Wiebe, National Refugee Program Coordinator, Mennonite Central Committee Canada. “While we deplore the smuggling of human beings in all forms, this is not smuggling. It is much more easily construed as either a flawed application of an untested law, or in a more sinister way, as a further erosion of human rights and decency in an over-zealous security-driven climate.”
The Canadian Council for Refugees notes that, despite its repeated urgings, the Canadian government has done little to crack down on smugglers who exploit refugee claimants by charging them exhorbitant sums of money. It is therefore all the more shocking that the government has decided to prosecute a humanitarian worker who was acting out of compassion for refugees.