Day promises 'consequences' for illegal refugees
CTV.ca News Staff
Updated Fri. Sep. 28 2007 11:19 PM ET
Canada's Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day says there will be “consequences” for any illegal refugees who try to enter Canada without proper documentation.
“People cannot come into this country without proper documentation and consequences will follow if they do,” he told reporters in Calgary.
His comments came on the heels of reports suggesting that busloads of illegal immigrants currently in the U.S. were on their way to Windsor, Ont.
In the past three weeks, nearly 300 people have crossed into Windsor from Detroit and applied for refugee status in Canada.
Day said Canada will take a zero-tolerance approach to anyone trying to enter the country illegally, but wanted to investigate specific claims in Windsor more closely.
“People who are coming across the border will face anything that anybody would face if they didn't have proper documentation and if they're not supposed to be here,” he said.
On Friday, Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis met with a Florida man accused of being responsible for sending the wave of immigrants to Windsor. He told Francis there are more busloads of potential immigrants on the way.
“There are individuals or organizations that are now planning for these types of arrivals at the Detroit-Windsor gateway,” Francis told A-Channel after his meeting with Jacques Sinjuste, founder of Jerusalem Haitian Community Centre in Naples, Florida.
“He gave specific reference as to one that will be coming the first week of October and they've already made accommodation arrangements on the Detroit side of the border,” Francis said.
So far, almost 300 people originally from Haiti and Mexico have crossed into Canada from the United States over the last three weeks.
Most have arrived with the help of Florida-based groups who say Canada has special permits to provide Mexican and Haitian citizens claiming refugee status a quick turn around.
Another nine such people arrived in Windsor Thursday night.
Sinjuste told reporters that they help illegal Mexican workers in Florida fill out forms to make refugee claims in Canada.
“I understand that I fill out the form, but in reality I do not send them here,” Sinjuste told reporters. He said his group connects Floridians with a company in Detroit that helps them apply for refugee status, for a cost.
“We do not force the person to pay.”
Sinjuste told media after his meeting with Francis that another person, responsible for sending the latest group, was charging more than $1,000 a head to bring them to Canada.
Francis said he's concerned Sinjuste, who is staying in the Detroit area for the next few days, is making arrangements for future groups.
Francis has written the federal and provincial governments asking for funding to help cover the cost of keeping the refugees housed while they wait for their refugee claims to be heard.
Last week, he said it had so far cost the city $230,000, about 20 per cent of the annual budget for shelters.
Windsor's unemployment rate is currently pushing 10 per cent, making the influx of jobless refugees the last thing its economy needed.
Dozens of settlers have begun receiving welfare benefits from the government while they wait for their refugee claim cases to be processes. Most of the claims have little chance of success.
It has been reported that the immigrants may not be covered under Canadian refugee status, meant to be given to people with a well-founded fear of persecution in their home country.
According to the Geneva Convention, persecution must be based on reasons of race, nationality, membership of a specific social group or political opinion. Gender, in some cases, can also be a factor.
Also, those applying from a “safe third country,” such as the U.S., are ineligible to make refugee claims at a Canadian border crossing by land.
If Mexicans come to Canada through the U.S., for example, they must make refugee claims there, and are not eligible here.
“You're not helping people by providing people false hope; you're not helping people by encouraging them to leave where they are at now only to be returned a year and a half or two years later,” Francis said.
There are currently 30,891 cases awaiting adjudication across the country.
According to the Immigration and Refugee Board, refugee claims from Mexicans have exploded in the past 10 years, from fewer than 1,000 to 5,000. Canada has become the top country for Mexican claims in the past two years.
The recent migrant wave to Canada comes after U.S. President George Bush promised a crackdown on illegal immigration.
Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Diane Finley has said she is monitoring the situation, but no other help has been offered from the federal government to either the wave of immigrants claiming refugee status or the overwhelmed city.
The websites for the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration , and the Canadian Council for Refugees both have notes warning people to avoid groups of individuals offering special programs.
“Canada Immigration has been very clear about posting everything that needs to be posted, that there is no special program,” Day said.
Meanwhile, the Wednesday arrest of a Montreal human rights worker allegedly helping 12 Haitians seek asylum in Canada has sparked outrage from lawyers' and refugee's groups.
Janet Hinshaw-Thomas, stopped with a group of Haitians at a Quebec border crossing earlier this week, has been charged under the federal Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
The Act says 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.”
Andrew Brouwer of the Refugee Lawyers' Association of Ontario says it may be the first time a refugee worker has been charged under the legislation.
Brouwer added that it could scare off groups helping refugees seek asylum in Canada.
Members of the Canadian Council for Refugees said the law should not impact people acting in humanitarian reasons.
“This is a very grim day for Canada. We are now criminalizing the act of assisting refugees,” Vice-President Amy Casipullai announced Thursday. “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.”
She added that the decision to prosecute a humanitarian worker working out of compassion is all the more shocking considering the government has done little to crack down on smugglers who exploit refugee claimants by charging large sums of money.
With report from CTV's Graham Richardson and The Canadian Press