For immediate release
(Vancouver, BC, June 13, 2017) – Today, the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) released a new report proposing a model that would provide independent oversight for the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). The BCCLA is one of several human rights groups that have been calling for greater accountability of the agency for many years. In today’s report entitled Oversight at the Border: A Model for Independent Accountability at the Canada Border Services Agency, the BCCLA makes concrete proposals for both civilian oversight and review of CBSA’s activities.
“The CBSA has extraordinary powers, including powers of arrest, detention, and search and seizure” says Laura Track, a lawyer with the BCCLA and co-author of the report. “CBSA officers also interact with extremely vulnerable populations, including refugees fleeing violence and migrants being detained in maximum security prisons. Yet unlike every other police agency with these kinds of powers, there is no independent oversight of CBSA officers’ activities. There is no formal and independent complaints process where individuals can register their concerns. There is no independent body with a mandate to look at the agency’s policies and practices to ensure they respect individual rights. It is deeply disturbing that officials with such wide-ranging powers are not subject to any kind of independent oversight.”
After the deaths of two migrants in CBSA custody within the span of one week last year, and in light of sustained advocacy from human rights and refugee groups, Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale committed to creating an independent oversight body for the CBSA as part of the government’s reforms to the country’s national security framework. The government is studying the issue and reforms are expected soon.
In its report, the BCCLA recommends two separate accountability mechanisms for the CBSA, one charged with providing real-time oversight of CBSA’s policies and practices, and one charged with conducting investigations and resolving complaints. The report also details the necessary components to make these bodies credible and effective, including independence, broad jurisdiction, sufficient resources, the power to compel CBSA to provide information and the power to make binding remedial orders. These recommendations are informed by interviews with lawyers, advocates and service providers working with refugees and other newcomers to Canada, whose experiences illustrate why independent oversight and accountability of CBSA is so badly needed.
“The Canadian Council for Refugees has long been calling for an independent and effective accountability mechanism for the CBSA,” said Loly Rico, President of the Canadian Council for Refugees. “BCCLA’s report provides helpful guidance to the government as they move to create a mechanism that truly responds to this most vulnerable population: non-citizens facing detention and removal from Canada.”
“Independent oversight builds public confidence in law enforcement by assuring the public that officers are being held to the highest standards of professionalism and accountability,” notes Track. “The absence of an independent review body for the CBSA does the CBSA – and the public – a great disservice.”
The BCCLA would like to thank the Law Foundation of BC for funding this project.