News / Ottawa

Report: Canadian border agency's lack of oversight 'deeply disturbing'

A new report from the B.C. Civil Liberties Association recommends two bodies to oversee CBSA— one to deal with complaints, and the other to review policies and practices.

Setti Ali, a recent refugee claimant from Djibouti who walked to Manitoba from the United States, speaks during the launch of a new website to assist refugee claimants at the United Way in Winnipeg, Thursday, March 2, 2017.

John Woods/ The Canadian Press

Setti Ali, a recent refugee claimant from Djibouti who walked to Manitoba from the United States, speaks during the launch of a new website to assist refugee claimants at the United Way in Winnipeg, Thursday, March 2, 2017.

Ottawa should set up two independent oversight bodies to deal with public complaints against Canada’s border officials and review policies involving enforcement and detention, says a new report.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) has the powers of arrest, detention and search and seizure, and can stop travellers for questioning, and take breath and blood samples without a warrant, yet there is no independent civilian oversight of the organization, said the B.C. Civil Liberties Association report.

“This is a highly unusual situation in Canada. Every significant police agency in the country has some form of independent oversight or review body, and in many cases, multiple such agencies,” said the 56-page report, released Wednesday.

“In light of a worrying number of deaths of migrants in detention, deplorable conditions of prolonged confinement in immigration detention facilities, and numerous examples of egregious officer conduct, this glaring gap in oversight must be urgently remedied.”

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, who oversees the border agency, was under fire last year after a series of deaths of detainees in immigration custody and an earlier report by the United Nations over Canada’s record of lengthy immigration detention stays and a lack of medical support for inmates.

The federal government has since held public consultations to review a broad range of issues, including oversight and accountability. The final report, published in May, found “unanimity” on the need for oversight, but no consensus on how it should be conducted.

“The government promised accountability for CBSA over a year ago. It’s time to act. The CBSA has extraordinary powers. CBSA officers interact with extremely vulnerable populations, including refugees fleeing violence and migrants being detained in maximum security prisons,” said Laura Track, a lawyer with the civil liberties association and co-author of the report.

“There is no formal and independent complaints process where individuals can register their concerns. There is no independent body with a mandate to look at the agency’s policies and practices to ensure they respect individual rights. It is deeply disturbing that officials with such wide-ranging powers are not subject to any kind of independent oversight.”

Scott Bardsley, a spokesperson for Goodale, said the government is committed to ensuring the country’s border services are world class and worthy of the trust of Canadians.

“In order to accomplish those two things, a review agency of some nature is required. The Public Safety Minister has been clear that he intends to establish that capacity once he has considered the views Canadians expressed in our public consultations,” Bardsley told the Star.

The civil liberties association said one civilian-led oversight commission should be established with a mandate to provide real-time oversight and policy governance to the CBSA while another independent review and complaints body should be created to deal with complaints against the border agency and its staff.

“People who work with refugees see first hand that CBSA officers, like any police, make mistakes, act unfairly, and even commit human rights violations,” said Mitchell Goldberg, president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers.

“There must be independently investigated to ensure that the rights of refugees and others are respected.”

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