Canada deports to tyranny

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      Human-rights advocates are calling on the federal government to increase the number of countries where it won't send failed refugee claimants.

      At present, Canada doesn't return people denied refugee status to eight conflict-torn countries: Afghanistan, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Iraq, Liberia, Rwanda, and Zimbabwe. Zool Suleman, a Vancouver immigration lawyer, notes that some other nations are a source of concern because of their human-rights records.

      "There's a whole bunch of countries where we know that torture is practised," Suleman told the Georgia Straight.

      He cited Syria–where Canadian Maher Arar was tortured after having first been detained in New York by U.S. authorities–as well as Jordan and Egypt. Suleman also said that China is "very controversial" because there have been repeated reports of organ harvesting from prisoners, along with other abuses. "Canada wants to build trade with China," he commented.

      In addition, Suleman cited Sudan, where hundreds of thousands of civilians have been attacked in the Darfur region in recent years by armed militia believed to be supported by the Khartoum government. Another country just as controversial as China is Iran, according to Suleman. He explained that while Iran has a functioning government and is engaged in trade with Canada, "there are persistent rumours of torture, [and] persistent rumours of abuses," yet Canada still deports people to that country.

      "It seems to me that the threshold for removals should be broader," Suleman said. "For instance, are there safeguards in terms of process for people who go back? Are there sufficient human-rights safeguards? Is there enough accountability and transparency about what happens to people when they go back?"

      Paula Shore, a spokesperson for the Canada Border Services Agency, told the Straight that the agency conducts periodic reviews and makes recommendations on whether a country should be included or taken off the list. Asked whether or not a country's human-rights record is part of the criteria, she said: "It doesn't indicate that here, but that doesn't mean it's not."

      "The Minister of Public Safety may impose a temporary suspension of removals when conditions such as war or environmental disaster threaten the life or security of the entire civilian population," Shore said.

      Valerie Zink, a spokesperson for the Vancouver-based group No One Is Illegal, alleged to the Straight that Canada "regularly deports people to countries where they face extreme threats to their safety and to their lives".

      Amnesty International Canada reports are among the documents reviewed by federal authorities before deciding whether or not a country should be included in the no-deportation list, according to the group's refugee coordinator, Gloria Nafziger.

      "The idea is that these countries are too dangerous to remove people to them," Nafziger told the Straight. "So I would hope that they're not using sort of the country's economic record to make that decision."

      The bottom line appears to be a big consideration on the part of the Canadian government, suggests Elisabeth Garant, the Montreal-based spokesperson of the Human Rights and Civil Liberties League of Quebec, which assists refugees. In a phone interview with the Straight, she noted that Algeria was removed from the list in 2002 after a visit by then–prime minister Jean Chrétien that led to several contracts for Canadian companies.

      "We thought it [the removal from the list] was one of the negotiations they did with the [Algerian] government," Garant said. "We don't have any proof of that, but can see from the action of the government that when there's commercial interests or implications with countries that are close to Canada, it's more difficult to get the attention of the government for these problems of insecurity in the countries–and to consider that people are [at] risk in those countries."

      She recalled that refugee advocates have previously called on the government to include Colombia and Somalia on the list, but that the policy wasn't changed. "Often if it's not a big event in the media, it's very difficult to have the interest of the government to make an action on these countries," Garant said.