CBSA’s decision to resume removals contravenes public health policy

  • January 25, 2021

It’s just as unsafe to send people back to their home countries now as it was in March, 2020 when the federal government put a temporary hold on removals, says the CBA’s Immigration Law Section, which is concerned that they have started up again.

“There has been no fundamental change in the health and safety circumstances underling the Canadian Border Services Agency’s decision to stop removals in March,” the Section says in a letter to the Minister of Public Safety and Preparedness, noting that infections and fatalities have increased since the second wave of the virus began, and the government’s own data shows a similar surge in other countries.

Resuming removals is likely to result in additional infections and fatalities, the Section says, as public health officials continue to call for limits on international travel, since the potential for infection increases in the closed environment of an airplane cabin.

“In the last two weeks of November 2020, the Public Health Agency of Canada confirmed 74 domestic flights and 71 international flights carried a person who later tested positive for COVID-19. Neither airlines nor public health authorities performed full contact tracing or notified passengers after these potential exposures to the virus. Removals endanger not only the returnees but also CBSA staff, airline staff and the returnees’ communities overseas.”

Added to the increased potential for virus transmission during travel is the fact that many returnees would also face a less stable situation on the ground in their home countries, where they might not have a home to return to, or have existing medical conditions that would increase their vulnerability.

While the CBSA says there are “recourse mechanisms” for those to be deported, the Immigration Section says such remedies “are insufficient in the context of a pandemic.” Remedies that stay removal are discretionary, and if an applicant is denied a deferral their only recourse is a stay motion at the Federal Court – a process that is slow and expensive.

The Section also points out that asylum-seekers who are front-line health-care workers have been told their efforts will open a “pathway to permanent residency.” The timing of the removals process could mean that people who are eligible for permanent residency because of their work but who have not yet received approval might be removed anyway.

“Discretion for applicants who may qualify creates uncertainty,” the Section says, and that uncertainty creates its own administrative burden for the CBSA and the Federal Court.

“CBSA’s decision to continue removals lacks transparency and justification,” the Section concludes. “We urge CBSA to adopt and follow a clear policy deeming all removal orders unenforceable due to public health risks.”