As Canada welcomes thousands of Syrian refugees and is lauded for its actions, the country maintains a two-tier asylum and citizenship system.
At a press conference held on Dec. 10 on Parliament Hill, concerned groups called on the minister of public safety and emergency preparedness, Ralph Goodale, to immediately halt the deportation procedures launched against Mohamed Harkat.
“Does this government want to be remembered for sending a refugee back to torture or execution?” asked the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, which held the event along with the Justice for Mohamed Harkat collective, Amnesty International, and the National Council of Canadian Muslims.
Security certificates: the scandal of secret trials
On Dec. 10, 2002, Mohamed Harkat was arrested under a security certificate, an immigration proceeding allowing the government to detain, prosecute and remove non-Canadians “for reasons of national security, violating human or international rights, or involvement in organized or serious crimes,” based on secret evidence provided by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. He spent a decade in jail and under strict house arrest, accused of being part of the al-Qaeda network.
This highly controversial process is the focus of The Secret Trial 5, the first feature film from Indian-born, Toronto-based director Amar Wala, released last year in an attempt to raise awareness about Bill C-51.
In place since the Cold War, security certificates have been used mainly against Muslim men in the wake of the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks. Since then, powers under the security certificates have been consistently extended. The right of review for permanent residents was withdrawn in 2002, and the number of ministers required to sign a certificate was reduced from two to one in 2003.
“This was voted under a Liberal government,” emphasizes Christian Legeais, spokesperson for the Justice for Mohamed Harkat collective.
In 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada found the security certificates to be unconstitutional because they failed “to assure the fair hearing that s. 7 of the Charter requires before the state deprives a person of life, liberty or security of the person.”
The Conservative government responded to the ruling by introducing “special advocates” into the security certificate system. Harkat later filed a second Supreme Court challenge against security certificates, calling into question the constitutionality of the revised process. His case was lost and the security certificate upheld.
“Mohamed Harkat is still subject of a removal order,” confirmed Esme Bailey, senior media spokesperson for the Canada Border Services Agency, in a laconic e-mail response to Ricochet issued on Dec. 14.
Last August, over a year after the Supreme Court ruling, Harkat received his removal order from Canada. He faces deportation to Algeria where, Lageais argues, he “risks being deported to torture.” Amnesty International has warned that Algeria’s poor human rights record makes any assurances of safety unreliable.
Deepan Budlakoti: a case study of two-tier citizenship
Before the introduction of Bill C-24 — the so-called Strengthening Citizenship Act, which allows the stripping of citizenship from people with dual nationalities — by former Conservative minister of citizenship and immigration Chris Alexander, the precarity of citizenship claims in Canada had been highlighted.
Born in Ottawa in 1985, Deepan Budlakoti spent three years in jail on drugs and weapons charges. The Harper government said that he had permanent resident status, not citizenship, which would be revoked because of his offences. Upon release from jail, he was turned over to the Canadian Border Services Agency.
The government has since been trying to deport Budlakoti to India, the country of origin of his parents, where he has never lived and is not a citizen.
During the Reclaiming Citizenship, Rejecting Double Punishment tour last year, the Justice for Deepan coalition went to Justin Trudeau’s Montreal office to ask for a meeting with the Liberal Party leader.
“Once you deal with immigration, your constitutional rights are not really given to you,” said Budlakoti at that time in an interview with Ensemble. “You're treated like you're a second-class citizen.”
“How can you get charged for the same crime twice?” he asked, pointing out he had served his sentence and was now facing additional punishment in the form of deportation.
The situation has not changed for Budlakoti since the Liberal election. “M. Budlakoti is subject of a removal order in force as a result of a December 2011 Immigration and Refugee Board decision,” explained Chris Kealey , CBSA media relations officer for the Northern Ontario Region, in an e-mail to Ricochet.
Rendered stateless by the Canadian government, Budlakoti is being denied public health coverage and has launched a crowdfunding campaign to cover his health insurance fees.
Status for all
The first of 25,000 sponsored Syrian refugees who arrived in Canada over the weekend are welcomed as landed immigrants and receive a health card and social insurance number.
“They'll be able to integrate right away in society,” said Rosalind Wong of advocacy group Solidarity Across Borders at a rally held in front of Trudeau’s office in Montreal on Dec. 13 . “It's a model of what is possible and what we demand from the government for thousands of people that are living without status here in Canada."
The demonstration brought together migrant justice activists who are calling for the Canadian government to immediately regularize all people living without status in the country and for Canada to open its borders to all migrants.
“We know that there are many conflicts, many situations of precarity in countries like Mexico, in African countries, in countries all over the world that are being ignored as the Canadian government is turning its attention on one specific issue,” said Wong.