AMERICANS FLEE TO CANADA
- AMERICANS FLEE TO CANADA
Dene Moore, Calgary Herald, 12/30/02
Increase in Canadian refugee claimants seeking refuge from U.S.
Sunday, December 29, 2002
CREDIT: (CP Archive/Richard Lam)
Immigration lawyer David Matas makes a statement during a press
conference in Vancouver, June 21. (CP Archive/Richard Lam)
VANCOUVER (CP) - The number of Americans making refugee claims in
Canada has skyrocketed since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks,
according to statistics from the Immigration and Refugee Board.
The number of Americans seeking refuge in Canada increased by 135
per cent before the end of October over the entire previous year.
From January to the end of October this year, 191 filed refugee
claims citing persecution in the U.S., compared to 81 in 2001.
In 2000, 85 had sought refugee status, already a huge jump from the
40 that sought refuge in 1999.
The increase comes as no surprise to immigration lawyer David Matas.
"I expect that what we're seeing is a reflection of the change in
due process in the U.S. as a result of Sept. 11," Matas said from
Residents of the Unites States are subject to more arbitrary
policing than they were before the terrorist attacks in September
2001, Matas said.
Rights have eroded more in the U.S. than they have here, he said.
Officials at Citizenship and Immigration Canada are aware of the
increase, said spokeswoman Nancy Duarte.
"They're aware and they're monitoring," she said.
The department has not had time to evaluate the increase, but
believes some of it could be attributed to a number of American-born
children of migrants in that country illegally who then come to
Canada to claim refugee status, she said.
Only one American has ever been accepted as a refugee by the board.
The 1997 decision was overturned on appeal to the Federal Court.
According to the group Human Rights Watch, more than 1,100 people,
mostly Arab or Muslim men, had been detained in the United States
within a couple of months of the attacks that felled the World Trade
Neither their names, their locations nor the charges against them
were made public.
There were reports that lawyers were prevented from meeting with
clients and some hearings were held in secret.
The U.S. Patriot Act of 2001 gave the country's attorney general
sweeping powers to detain non-citizens on national security grounds
and hold them in custody indefinitely.
"New laws permitting the indefinite detention of non-citizens,
special military commissions to try suspected terrorists, the
detention of over 1,000 people, and the abrogation of the
confidentiality of attorney-client communications for certain
detainees, demonstrated the administration's troubling disregard for
well established human rights safeguards as it sought to protect
national security," wrote the group.
"Indeed, in taking steps to defend the U.S. from terrorists, the
government adopted measures that eroded key values and principles it
said it sought to protect, including the rule of law."
American anti-terrorism measures prompted federal Foreign Affairs
Minister Bill Graham to issue a warning in October to Canadians born
in Iraq, Iran, Libya, Sudan and Syria about a U.S. law targeting
foreign visitors originally from those countries.
The federal minister later recanted, saying he had assurances from
the U.S. ambassador to Canada that Canadians with Canadian passports
would not be treated any differently depending on their country of
And several Canadians have been detained by U.S. authorities
alleging links to al Qaida.
But Vancouver immigration lawyer Phil Rankin said most of the
American refugee claimants he's dealt with suffer mental illnesses
that lead them to believe they are persecuted in the United States.
Others are trying to avoid prosecution south of the border.
None of them are successful, he said.
"Nobody's going to buy that the United States is not a democratic
place," Rankin said. "The problems that a lot of people have are
legal. . . . That doesn't make you a refugee."
There's been an increase in refugee claims across the board, said
Janet Dench, executive director of the Montreal-based Canadian
Council for Refugees.
The council doesn't know why the number of claims against the U.S.
has increased, she said. But they have heard from claimants who had
been living in the U.S. who say they no longer felt safe there after
Sept. 11, 2001 because of their country of origin.
"Last year we noticed that there were quite a lot of Pakistanis,"
There have been some outrageous human rights abuses in the U.S.,
including arrests without charges and psychological torture, she
But people are biased to believe that human rights abuses don't
occur in western countries, she said.
"We tend to start from the assumption that they're not very bad
because, you know, the United States, home of liberty and
everything. It can't be that bad," Dench said.
© Copyright 2002 The Canadian Press
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