Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 16, 2006
Repeal Safe Third Country accord
Bishops urge Canada to end racial profiling of Arabs, Muslims
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
Canadian Catholic News
Canada's Catholic bishops are calling for the abrogation of the Safe Third Country agreement between Canada and the United States and an end to "racial profiling" of Arabs and Muslims.
Refugees must not be scapegoated because of heightened security concerns following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Gatineau Archbishop Roger Ebacher told a Jan. 10 news conference on Parliament Hill.
Ebacher said most terrorists would probably not go to the trouble of trying to enter the country as refugees, but would find other means.
He urged Canadians not to become prejudiced or hard hearted towards refugees and migrants who face poverty, separation from families and persecution in their home countries.
"It is a fundamental inversion of values when laws and politics place national interests before human dignity," said Ebacher, who chairs the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops' (CCCB) social affairs commission.
At the news conference, the CCCB introduced a new pastoral letter entitled We Are Aliens and Transients Before the Lord Our God.
Ebacher said that the gap between rich and poor nations of the North and South, security concerns, and urgent problems in addressing the social and economic integration of immigrants to Canada motivated the bishops to publish the letter.
In addition to asking for the abrogation of the Safe Third Country Agreement, St. John's Archbishop Brendan O'Brien urged Canada to introduce:
- A promised refugee appeal system;
- An end to obstacles to speedy family reunification;
- Reduced wait times for collective sponsorships; and
- Stronger laws to protect victims of human trafficking.
"The Church must continue to raise its voice to defend the human dignity of migrants where they may be, and contribute to changing current policies which threaten their rights," the pastoral letter says.
"Arab and Muslim communities, in particular seem to suffer from racial profiling," the letter says. It refers to longer processing times from areas such as North Africa, indefinite detentions of people issued security certificates, the "alarming practice of 'extraordinary rendition' of Canadian nationals to countries where torture is practised."
The Safe Third Country agreement, which came into effect at the end of 2004, was meant to stop the practice of "asylum shopping" where refugee claimants who failed to gain refugee status in the United States could try again in Canada or vice versa.
In 2002, when the agreement was in its initial stages, the previous Foreign Minister John Manley said the agreement was necessary to end the abuse of Canada's "broken" refugee system by bogus refugee claimants.
In 2003, Auditor-General Sheila Fraser reported that about 30,000 outstanding warrants for the removal of failed claimants and illegal immigrants had never been enforced.
"Arab and Muslim communities, in particular seem to suffer from racial profiling."
- CCCB pastoral letter
O'Brien, past-president of the CCCB, said many failed refugee claimants and economic migrants have been allowed to live in Canada so long that their local communities accept them and support them.
Using examples from his Newfoundland diocese, he indicated that it would be inhumane to deport them.
The CCCB opposed the Safe Third Country Agreement, as did many refugee advocacy groups, arguing that U.S foreign policy makes America likely to refuse some refugee claimants Canada would accept.
Since it came into effect, refugee claims to Canada have dropped almost 40 per cent, according to a July 2005 CBC News story.
The refugee appeal process the bishops call for was promised in the 2001 Immigration Act.
But late last year, Immigration Minister Joseph Volpe decided not to institute it, saying he wanted to ensure the system got refugee determination right the first time.
Asked why the bishops were bringing this letter out in the middle of a federal election campaign, O'Brien explained it had been in the works for a long time before the election call.
Its publication coincides with the worldwide Catholic Church's observance of the World Day for Migrants and Refugees Jan. 15.
The letter defends the right of churches to offer sanctuary to refugee claimants as a last resort, pointing out that in 2004 then-Immigration Minister Judy Sgro asked churches to stop providing sanctuary.
The letter also calls for better treatment of the 18,000 seasonal agricultural workers from Mexico and the Caribbean who come to Canada each year.