Media Release
For Immediate Release
29 November 2007
Launch of “proud to aid and abet refugees” campaign

The Canadian Council for Refugees and Amnesty International Canada today announced the launch of a campaign to end the threat of prosecutions against refugee workers.

The “Proud to aid and abet refugees” campaign is being launched as over three hundred refugee workers gather for the CCR’s fall consultation.  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.

“These charges have a huge impact on people helping refugees,” said Francisco Rico-Martinez, former CCR President and co-director of FCJ Refugee Centre in Toronto.  “Refugees face so many barriers to reaching safety that they need to rely on groups for help.  But just by giving refugees information, we risk prosecution.  We won’t be intimidated, but Canada should be honouring aid to refugees, not criminalizing it.”

“Amnesty International is concerned that Canadian law puts humanitarian workers who assist refugee claimants to enter Canada at risk of criminal prosecution,” said Alex Neve, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada. “The right to seek asylum is enshrined in international law.   Section 117 of the Act should be reformed to ensure it is not used against individuals who assist refugee claimants for humanitarian reasons.”

The campaign includes a proposal for legislative amendment to prevent future such prosecutions (text in backgrounder).  The law needs to be changed because the prosecution of Ms Hinshaw-Thomas has shown that neither undertakings from officials nor the requirement of the Attorney General’s consent are sufficient safeguards against such prosecutions.

“I admire Canada, a country which takes its humanitarian commitments so seriously, and I am extremely grateful to all Canadians who were concerned for my personal safety,” said Janet Hinshaw-Thomas.  “I only hope that no one else will ever have to decide between the safety of refugees and their own personal safety.  No one should have to make such a choice.”

On 14 November Amnesty International and CCR wrote to the Ministers of Public Safety, Citizenship and Immigration and Justice asking for a meeting and requesting that they publicly commit to ensure that no one else acting on humanitarian motives will be charged, to introduce legislative amendments to this effect and to review currently pending charges under s. 117 with respect to possible humanitarian motives.   No answer has yet been received.

For more information, consult the Backgrounder.

Campaign webpage:

Colleen French, CCR Communications Coordinator, (514) 277-7223 (ext. 1)
Beth Berton-Hunter, Amnesty International Canada, 416-363-9933 (ext. 32), (416) 904-7158 (cell)