Why is Canada deporting essential workers to COVID hotspots?

Jatinder Singh was deported yesterday, despite a federal ban on travel to India
Protest against Singh's deportation outside CBSA headquarters in Montreal - photo byJoseph Dubois
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When Jatinder Singh lands in India this week he’ll enter a country ravaged by COVID-19 and political violence, a place where his brother and father were both maimed.

Earlier this week the Canadian government rejected a motion to delay his deportation, denying Singh a chance to present evidence that would bolster his refugee claim.

He was deported late Tuesday afternoon, despite a federal ban on travel to India because the country is overrun with COVID-19 deaths.

Jatinder Singh in Montreal prior to his deportation on Tuesday
Joseph Dubois

Last November, Singh’s brother had his kneecap broken by government forces during a protest led by India’s impoverished farmers. It’s now held in place by a metal plate and three screws. The family is part of a movement opposed to government measures that will make it easier for international corporations to exploit and dispossess Sikh farmers of their land.

“I don’t know. Somebody might kill me or attack me, I don’t know,” said Singh last Friday, when asked about his imminent deportation. “I’m safe here. It’s not dangerous here.”

Border agents ransacked Singh’s Montreal home Monday, while he was out getting a COVID-19 test, according to his family. They say the agents tossed the apartment for evidence that Singh’s bags were packed while his relatives, including a child, “watched in horror.”

Advocates for Singh say he poses no flight risk and that he’s served as an essential worker throughout the pandemic. His family in Montreal pays $800 a month so border agents can monitor Singh’s movements with an electronic bracelet, and his employer wrote a letter of support for him.

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He fled rural India for the United States in 2013 because of sectarian violence in the South Asian country. Singh was among the thousands who entered Canada to seek asylum in 2017, months after Donald Trump was elected president on a promise to detain and deport refugee claimants.

Once here, Singh found work as a long-haul truck driver, transporting goods between Montreal and Toronto. When his application for refugee status was denied in 2019, he became undocumented and was ordered to leave Canada.

Police arrested him for violating the court order in Ontario last winter after his truck was involved in a minor accident.

He’s since spent two months being detained in Ontario and Laval, where he wasn’t able to contact his family. While he was behind bars, Singh’s family paid an immigration consultant thousands of dollars to fight the deportation.

“What a lack of compassion on the part of the Liberal government.”

But the consultant did not gather or present any evidence to support his client last March, during a detention review hearing overseen by the Canada Border Services Agency. Singh was released in the spring, on the condition his family pay for him to be monitored 24 hours a day.

With his final appeal having failed, Singh’s supporters fear the worst.

“It’s a real danger to his life,” said Rushdia Mehreen, who works with Solidarity Across Borders. “He already has a risk to his life. He’s been attacked a few times. His family has been targeted for their political associations, but now with the farmers’ struggle, there are new risks.”

A representative for CBSA did not respond to a list of questions provided by Ricochet.

“What a lack of compassion on the part of the Liberal government,” said New Democratic Party MP Alexandre Boulerice in a statement published Tuesday.

On average, 129 asylum seekers have been detained daily by CBSA this year, according to the agency.

Last year, as the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the globe, CBSA stopped deporting refugee claimants and reduced detentions by about half. On average, 129 asylum seekers have been detained daily by CBSA this year, according to the agency.

Mehreen and Solidarity Across Borders have written over 200 letters to politicians and government officials, they’ve fundraised to mount a legal defence and last Friday they held a protest outside the CBSA building in downtown Montreal.

On Tuesday, with their cause all but lost, the group sent one last plea to Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, imploring him to show clemency in Singh’s case.

“This isn’t about politics, it’s about doing the right thing,” said Mehreen.

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