1st Session, 42nd Parliament,
Volume 150, Issue 65
Tuesday, October 25, 2016
The Honourable George J. Furey, Speaker
Canada Border Services Agency Act
Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I know everyone is anxious to pass this bill, but because it’s going to the other place, I want to put some things on record.
Honourable senators, I rise today to speak about Bill S-205, An Act to amend the Canada Border Services Agency. If passed, this bill will create the position of inspector general of the Canada Border Services Agency. This inspector general will have the authority to report on and make recommendations about the activities of the CBSA and to review complaints about the CBSA’s conduct.
Before I begin, I would like to thank Senator Moore for his untiring work on this bill and his cooperation with the Senate National Security and Defence Committee. He has worked for many hours and months on this bill, and I thank him for his commitment to creating an effective accountability structure for the CBSA.
Honourable senators, I want to share a story with you to show just why Bill S-205 is so important. It is the story of a woman named Lucia Vega Jimenez. Three years ago, Jimenez was stopped in Vancouver’s SkyTrain station because she did not have her fare after boarding. She was interviewed and arrested shortly after, since she had been previously deported, and was judged a flight risk who would not show up for future proceedings. The Mexican consulate in Vancouver would later reveal that this was because Jimenez feared being sent back to horrifying abuse that she faced back home. Nurses and officers who dealt with her even noted “horrific scars” from the violence she had suffered.
Jimenez was put into Vancouver airport’s detention centre, a CBSA-run jail. This would be the beginning of her tragic story. While she was in captivity, the CBSA denied Jimenez access to legal advice and necessary medical and mental help. By the end of the month, Jimenez died after she hanged herself in her own cell — a tragedy that could easily have been prevented if her needs had been met.
Honourable senators, we live in a great country. We suffered a terrible scar when Jimenez took her own life.
This kind of treatment and lack of transparency is hardly unique to Jimenez’s case. The Toronto Star reports that over 80,000 migrants have been jailed by CBSA without charge over the last 10 years. About one third of these migrants are put into facilities meant for the criminal population.
Honourable senators, it is important to remember that people who the CBSA deal with every day are not necessarily criminals. The CBSA often deals with people who have faced overwhelming challenges and have fled from their countries, or are people seeking a new life in Canada. These are people with needs that must be accounted for.
Jimenez herself was not a dangerous criminal by any stretch of the imagination — she was simply a woman who was trying to escape from the abuse she faced in her home.
Under the current system, there is no independent review process that reviews complaints about the CBSA or the actions of the agency. The CBSA’s activities and conduct can only be examined by an internal review process.
There is a pressing need for an independent body that can conduct this kind of review in a transparent manner. The death of Lucia Vega Jimenez only became public a whole month after she passed away. The deaths and mistreatment of many others like Jimenez remain shrouded in mystery to this very day.
Notable among these cases is that of Abdurahman Ibrahim Hassan. Hassan was the youngest son of a family that had fled from war-torn Somalia, seeking a better life in Toronto. After struggling with severe mental health issues and several arrests, Hassan was placed in CBSA detention for future deportation in 2012.
On June 11, 2015, Hassan’s parents received a call from the CBSA telling them that their son was dead in a hospital and asking, “What do you want us to do with the body?”
To this day, almost no information has been given, despite many requests from the family. They know nothing about why Hassan was taken to the hospital, who took him there, when they took him there or what caused his death. Even today his family still searches for a complete story of why Hassan died.
I believe that the bill will give much-needed accountability and transparency to the CBSA to prevent tragedies like that of Jimenez and Hassan. Bill S-205 will create the office of the inspector general, that will provide the CBSA with accountability and balanced structures, without reducing the agency’s power to deal with threats to Canada’s national security.
Under this bill, any person may make a complaint to the inspector general with respect to anything done by the CBSA, its employees or its agents. If the inspector general should find that the case is well-founded, he or she would report to the Minister of Public Safety and the President of the CBSA with a report of the case and recommendations. In this case, the complainant could also bring their case before the Federal Court for a remedy. These reports will also provide the CBSA with the opportunity to learn from its mistakes and shortcomings and to improve as an agency.
Bill S-205 also gives the inspector general the duty to table an annual report regarding the challenges that the CBSA faces before each house of Parliament. I wholeheartedly encourage this, as it would both provide the public with transparency concerning the state of CBSA and provide Parliament with the tools to improve it.
I also believe that the inspector general could play a vital role in assisting the national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians as it examines the CBSA. Their insight could help the committee make informed decisions about reforms to the agency.
I would like to conclude by sharing another story, which I hope will drive home just how vulnerable some people in CBSA care can be, and how we owe them a system that will not allow this abuse.
In January this year, when a 16-year-old Syrian minor known as “Mohammed” tried to claim refugee status at Fort Erie, he was taken into CBSA custody and confined in a Toronto detention centre. He was kept in isolated confinement for over three weeks under Canada’s immigration laws.
Honourable senators, I would like to take this opportunity to remind you of how terrible this treatment is. For an adult, prolonged isolated confinement is internationally considered to be cruel and unusual treatment and often has psychological consequences. For minors, the negative effects of this treatment are amplified and have serious effects on the development of their brains. Any length of isolated confinement of minors — much less prolonged isolated confinement lasting three weeks — violates the UN convention against torture. This is not the kind of treatment that the CBSA should ever be permitted to force upon anybody.
Mohammed’s words in a CBC interview this February still haunt me:
Three weeks in detention, I’m feeling sad, and I cry all the time. The room, the iron on the windows, I’m afraid.
These are the words of a boy who is scared and confused, who doesn’t understand why such a terrible thing happened to him. It’s my hope that with this bill, these kinds of incidents can be exposed more often and acted upon, so that we can no longer fail these most vulnerable people.
Honourable senators, I am deeply concerned, as I know are you, that cases like those of Lucia Vega Jimenez, Abdurahman Hassan and Mohammed are happening in Canada. While the CBSA has the mandate of providing border services to protect national and public security, one of our country’s most fundamental values is the respect of a human’s right to life, liberty and security of person.
I believe that Bill S-205 proposes a reasonable and effective compromise between these two interests, by introducing an accountability structure into the CBSA while allowing it to fulfill its mandate.
Honourable senators, the CBSA has been given a considerable amount of power to protect Canada from those who wish to do it harm. I ask you today to support this bill to ensure that this wide mandate and power is balanced with a proper accountability structure. In doing so, we ensure that the vulnerable people who arrive at our border every day are protected too. In doing so, we will ensure that no more tragedies like that of Jimenez, Hassan or Mohammed will ever happen again.
The Hon. the Speaker: Is it your pleasure, honourable senators, to adopt the motion?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
(Motion agreed to and bill, as amended, read third time and passed.)