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Concerns mount over ‘criminalization’ of detained migrants in Canada

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Concerns mounting over the 'criminalization' of detainees

OTTAWA — Canada’s border-security agency will soon require all border-security officers working with detained migrants to wear defensive gear that includes batons, pepper spray and bulletproof vests — a policy that is drawing concern over a perceived “criminalization” of asylum seekers.

A new national policy on uniforms was adopted internally last year after the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) began moving what it deems “higher-risk immigration detainees” from provincial jails, where they were being held for security purposes, into one of the agency’s three “immigration holding centres.”

The agency decided all officers working in these centres must be outfitted in protective and defensive equipment to ensure a “common operational approach” especially in light of the newly transferred migrants previously held in jails, according to a briefing note obtained by The Canadian Press through access-to-information law.

“This will require greater CBSA officer presence in managing detainee populations at the IHCs, including the ability to de-escalate and intervene physically if necessary,” the briefing note says.

“Ensuring that IEOs (inland enforcement officers) wear their defensive equipment will enable officers to protect/defend themselves and others if necessary in the IHC.”

The defensive gear they are to wear includes steel-toed boots, “soft body armour,” a defensive baton, pepper spray and handcuffs. They will not carry firearms.

The changes have sparked concern this will create an environment within immigration detention centres akin to jail conditions and encourage the perception that detained migrants in Canada, including some children, are criminals worthy of punishment.

A group of doctors, lawyers, legal scholars and human rights organizations wrote two letters last year to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale urging him to cancel the policy — calls they say have been ignored.

“We applaud your efforts to reduce the number of immigration detainees held in provincial jails. But raising security measures in an administrative detention centre to mirror those of a criminal institution defeats the purpose of transferring immigration detainees from jails to IHCs,” says one letter, dated June 22, 2018.

“The proposed policy would arm CBSA officers with some of the same tools as correctional officers in maximum-security facilities … (which) is clearly disproportionate to any potential risk and is not warranted.”

Concerns have also been raised internally by the union that represents the security officers themselves, who are worried about the increased risks of having weapons in the mix if a high-risk situation or confrontation does arise.

Anthony Navaneelan, a layer with Legal Aid Ontario who also works with the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, said it’s not every day the border-security union and migrant-advocacy groups agree.

Wearing defensive gear when dealing with refugees is “inappropriate and unnecessary,” Navaneelan said.

He pointed to a 2012 report by the UN special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, Francois Crepeau, that said detention of migrants on the grounds of their irregular status should “under no circumstance be of a punitive nature” and should never involve prison-like conditions or environments.

“The idea of getting them out of jails is to recognize the fact that it can re-traumatize refugee claimants to be putting them in detention to begin with when they’ve committed no crime,” Navaneelan said.

“Also in terms of necessity, CBSA hasn’t identified for us any incidents that have happened at the immigration holding centres that would warrant these types of measures. Certainly I’d, at best, call this a proactive measure in anticipation of some future concern … but we certainly think escalating or creating an environment where officers are equipped with these types of measures is almost a solution in search of a problem.”

In a statement, CBSA spokeswoman Rebecca Purdy said the agency’s operating procedures say officers “must” wear the protective and defensive equipment issued to them while on duty.

The decision to equip officers working in migrant detention centres with uniforms and defensive gear was made “to ensure national alignment of CBSA standards for its operations and is consistent with practices implemented domestically and internationally as it relates to detention,” Purdy said.

As for the concerns raised by the lawyers, doctors, human-rights groups and the officers’ union, CBSA “ensured that there is a balance reflected between the safety and security of officers and other detainees,” Purdy added.

Asylum-seekers in Canada can be detained for a number of reasons, including if CBSA officers have reason to believe they would be deemed inadmissible on grounds of security, criminality or records of violating human or international rights themselves.

A migrant also can be detained simply if a CBSA officer believes the person might be a no-show for his or her refugee-determination hearing. The vast majority of migrants detained by Canada are held for this reason, according to government statistics posted online. Last year, 81 per cent of detained migrants were held because they were deemed unlikely to appear for their hearings, including 40 children, most of whom were travelling with adults.

Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, said her organization was assured that migrants detained for administrative reasons such as this would be separated from those suspected of criminality when held in Canadian detention centres.

She questioned why CBSA officers will be required to wear defensive gear in all areas of these centres, rather than only in wings where migrants suspected of being security or criminal threats are being held.

She also echoed concerns that wearing this gear is akin to treating refugees like criminals

“The CBSA should very much reduce the criminalization of those people who are detained,” Dench said.

—Follow @ReporterTeresa on Twitter

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press


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Military faces calls to train soldiers to identify neo-Nazis, hate-group members

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OTTAWA — The Canadian Armed Forces is facing calls to train its recruiters and other service members to identify and screen out members of hate groups.

The military is also being accused of failing to take the issue seriously by adopting what several experts say is a wait-and-see approach rather than actively weeding out such individuals.

The criticism follows an internal military report and several high-profile incidents linking some service members to right-wing extremists and hate groups.

That includes an investigation this week into a reservist in Manitoba who is suspected of being a recruiter for a neo-Nazi group.

The Defence Department says the military already uses interviews and background checks to screen recruits for hateful beliefs and behaviour and takes very seriously any reported incidents by current personnel.

But several experts tell The Canadian Press that is not good enough, and that the military must launch a campaign similar to efforts to stamp out sexual misconduct to truly root out extremist beliefs and behaviour.

The Canadian Press

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Liberals unhurt, Tories not helped by scathing SNC-Lavalin report: Poll

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Justin Trudeau

OTTAWA — A new poll suggests a scathing ethics report on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair hasn’t so far hurt the Liberals’ chances of re-election this fall — and it hasn’t helped the Conservatives.

Indeed, the Leger poll suggests the two parties were locked in a dead heat, with the support of 33 per cent of voters, as they jockey for position at the starting gate for the Oct. 21 vote.

Liberal support was unchanged from last month, despite last week’s damning report from federal ethics commissioner Mario Dion, who concluded that Trudeau violated the Conflict of Interest Act by pressuring his former attorney general to halt a criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.

Conservative support was down three percentage points from last month, despite the party’s best efforts to re-ignite public outrage over the SNC affair, which propelled the Tories into a commanding 13-point lead over the Grits at the height of the controversy last April.

The poll put support for the Green party at 13 per cent, up one point and ahead of the NDP at 11 per cent. Maxime Bernier’s fledgling People’s Party of Canada stood at four per cent.

The online survey of 1,535 eligible voters was conducted Aug. 16-19 for The Canadian Press and weighted to reflect the makeup of Canada’s population. It cannot be assigned a margin of error because internet-based polls are not considered random samples.

Leger executive vice-president Christian Bourque said the latest results suggest voters have largely put the SNC-Lavalin affair behind them and moved on to issues that affect them more directly — at least for now.

The two main parties are back in a “neck-and-neck race,” which is where things stood in February before the SNC controversy rocked the Liberal government, costing Trudeau two cabinet ministers, his most trusted aide and the country’s top public servant.

“I think that those who changed their mind on the PM and turned their backs on him did that in the spring already,” Bourque said in an interview.

But he said other Canadians appear to be fatigued with the issue and may be thinking “regardless of what I think of the behaviour of the PM, at the end of the day how does this change my life and that of my children, which is nil.”

Still, Bourque warned that “doesn’t mean that it won’t come back to haunt the prime minister” during the campaign, particularly should the RCMP decide to investigate, as Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has repeatedly pressed the Mounties to do.

The Conservatives and New Democrats tried to revive the controversy at a meeting Wednesday of the House of Commons ethics committee, where they moved to invite Dion, Trudeau and others to testify about the ethics report.

However, the Liberals used their majority on the committee to block the bid to magnify the report just a couple of weeks before Trudeau officially fires the starting gun for the election.

The poll put the Liberals back into a solid lead in the Atlantic provinces, Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia. The Conservatives enjoyed a commanding lead in Alberta and Manitoba/Saskatchewan, with 55 per cent support in both regions.

The Liberals had the advantage in the two most populous provinces, where more than half of the country’s 338 seats will be up for grabs.

In Ontario, home to more than one-third of the seats, the Conservatives appear to be suffering a “spillover effect” from the unpopularity of Doug Ford’s provincial Progressive Conservative government, Bourque said. The Liberals enjoyed the support of 38 per cent of Ontarians, compared to the Conservatives’ 30 per cent, the Green’s 14 per cent, the NDP’s 13 per cent and the People’s party’s three per cent.

In Quebec, home to SNC-Lavalin, the Liberals stood at 34 per cent, compared to the Tories’ 27, the Bloc Quebecois’ 18, the Greens’ nine, the NDP’s eight and the People’s party’s four per cent.

Dion concluded that Trudeau broke ethics law by improperly pressuring former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to intervene to stop the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin on corruption charges related to contracts in Libya.

Trudeau has acknowledged that he wanted Wilson-Raybould to reconsider her refusal to overturn a decision by the director of public prosecutions, who decided last fall not to invite the Montreal-based engineering and construction giant to negotiate a remediation agreement. Such an agreement would have allowed the company to avoid the risk of a criminal conviction, which would result in it being barred from federal contracts for 10 years.

While he has taken full responsibility for the mistakes that were made, Trudeau has refused to apologize. He has insisted that he was only standing up for the interests of SNC-Lavalin’s 9,000 employees, pensioners and suppliers, who stood to be negatively affected by the potentially crippling cost of a conviction.

Scheer maintains Dion’s report suggests the prime minister’s conduct went beyond a violation of ethics law and warrants a criminal investigation into possible obstruction of justice.

Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet over the affair in late February, followed shortly by cabinet ally Jane Philpott. Both women were subsequently booted out of the Liberal caucus and are running for re-election as Independent candidates.

Joan Bryden , The Canadian Press



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