Public inquiry recommended oversight in 2006 – no action since that time
The BC Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Council for Refugees and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers today called on the government to end its long inaction on the need for an independent and effective complaints and monitoring mechanism for the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). The Maher Arar judicial inquiry recommended that CBSA’s national security activities be subjected to independent review in 2006. The federal government has failed to act on this recommendation.
While CBSA has sweeping police powers, it is unlike most other police forces in Canada because there is no independent oversight body to review its actions and to ensure respect for the human rights of refugees, migrants, and Canadians who deal with the agency. Municipal and provincial police across Canada, as well as the RCMP, have various forms of complaint agencies and independent investigation agencies to supervise their conduct.
“There is no excuse for seven years of doing nothing to ensure Canada’s border police are accountable to independent oversight,” said Josh Paterson, Executive Director of the BC Civil Liberties Association. “That’s seven years of people having virtually nowhere to turn when they have a complaint about the CBSA. Just filing a complaint with the CBSA itself is not good enough. There needs to be independent review for all of CBSA’s national security, enforcement and border policing activities.”
The organizations presented three recent examples of situations that urgently cry out for independent investigation:
- CBSA officers share information about refugee claimants with individuals in the country of origin, potentially endangering the safety of the claimants or their families.
- Evidence suggests that CBSA may have given the Sri Lankan security authorities an affidavit from a Sri Lankan man alleging to have been tortured by those same authorities, possibly putting him and his family in danger.
- Lucia Vega Jiménez died in late December 2013 while in CBSA detention: information was not made public about this death until more than a month after it occurred.
“Refugee claimants and other migrants are among the most vulnerable people in Canadian society: for this reason the CBSA needs the most robust oversight mechanism possible,” said Catherine Dauvergne, spokesperson for the CCR and Professor of Law at UBC. “It is often difficult if not impossible for them to make a complaint if they have been mistreated, especially if they have been deported. There needs to be proactive monitoring of CBSA by an independent oversight agency with the power to start investigations on its own.”
“CBSA officers have sweeping powers of investigation, with few constraints and no oversight. Claimants and migrants fear being imprisoned or deported if they report incidents of bullying, threats or abusive interrogations,” said Mitchell Goldberg, vice-president of CARL. “There must be independent oversight of CBSA to ensure integrity and transparency in day-to-day operations.”