The Canadian government is cynically using an orchestrated media operation centring around Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and a Saudi teenager flown to Canada in a special plane from Thailand on January 12 to receive asylum to camouflage how it is trampling on the rights and dignity of immigrants, refugees and migrant workers.
Every day dozens of people are being deported from Canada to Haiti. Non-status persons of Haitian origin awaiting deportation are experiencing insufferable harassment on the part of the Canadian government. One day the government is deporting them, the next day it is not. One day their application for asylum is refused, their deportation date is set, and the next it is annulled and they are told that they will be called back in a couple of weeks. This is an inhumane and untenable situation.
The government announced a stay on the deportations planned for the week of November 19-25, then on November 26 it resumed the deportations. On November 27, the Canadian government announced a new stay on the deportations without specifying the time-frame.
Frantz André who is a member of Action Committee on Non-Status Persons and accompanies those caught in this terrible plight, explains the situation of those non-status refugees of Haitian origin in Montreal. The interview was originally published in a special edition of Chantier politique, the online publication of the Marxist-Leninist Party of Quebec in November, 2018.
Chantier politique: Hello Frantz. You are calling for a moratorium on the deportations. Can you elaborate?
Frantz André: What has to be understood is that a crisis has been caused over the $3.8 billion that disappeared from PetroCaribe. PetroCaribe is an oil alliance with Venezuela for the purchase of oil on preferential terms. The funds saved were supposed to go towards development programs for the population. The $3.8 billion was to be a starting point. The person who started to question this is Gilbert Mirambeau, a filmmaker of Haitian origin in Montreal. He questioned this and, fed up with what was going on in Haiti, he wrote on a piece of cardboard “Kote kob petrocaribe a?” (Where did the PetroCaribe money go?) and circulated it on Facebook. That snowballed. All the youth in Haiti who are denouncing the government began to do the same.
To get back to the $3.8 billion that disappeared, accountability was demanded. A senate committee was set up, the Senate Committee on the Management of PetroCaribe Funds, which submitted its report in November 2017. A few people were singled out, although not necessarily those who were responsible. And there was never really any follow-up after that. The movement demanded justice and accountability. But the report has not gone any further. We even know that certain senators benefited and profited from that money, so they have no interest in taking this any further.
The current mass demonstrations taking place have given rise to riots. Following on the heels of PetroCaribe, the government aggressively increased the price of fuel by 50 per cent at the beginning of July. And of course the population reacted. Riots took place on July 6, 7 and 8. There were some deaths and material damage. And the government resigned at that time. There was another attempt at a new government. What is noteworthy is that on July 6, 7 and 8, the Canadian government closed its embassy and requested that Canadians not travel to Haiti unless it was essential and asked that those already in Haiti return home. So, with regard to asylum seekers being deported, we said: if this is not good for Canadians, why would it be good for people who left for reasons of insecurity? It was at that point that I requested a moratorium. After that, we held demonstrations outside the offices of Immigration Canada, on July 14, 21 and 30, and then PetroCaribe.
Now, how does all this affect asylum seekers here, who benefited last week from a seven-day reprieve? With demonstrations taking place daily in Haiti, over 30 people have been massacred by machete – people have been killed in demonstrations – a car drove into protestors killing nine people, so the population is paying the price. Based on credible sources, gangs are fighting each other and are being armed by the government and the opposition, amongst others. So there’s an attempt to stifle the issue of accountability on PetroCaribe by crying “instability.” In my view, it is a mini civil war. And the fact that between November 18 and 25 the government stopped deportations again, within a four-month period, is an admission that Haiti is not a safe country. So why this constant stop-start scenario rather than putting in place something more permanent, such as telling people, for example, that a year will be taken to see whether or not the government is credible and takes up the issue of PetroCaribe. We, as Canadians, have a moral duty not to send people back like that, particularly not in this start-stop mode. This creates anxiety amongst people, the uncertainty that they could be deported at any time.
There’s a young woman, a single mother, whose son was born in Canada, who was to be deported last week. She was called on November 20 and told she would not be leaving on November 21. However, she had already given up her apartment, given away all her furniture as she didn’t have time to sell it, and now all of her belongings are in her suitcases. She is staying with someone while waiting to be convoked, as she was told that she would be called back in three to four weeks to determine a deportation date. It’s as if people have been sentenced to death and are in their cells waiting to be executed. It’s the equivalent of the U.S. death penalty.
CP: What’s the situation here in Montreal?
FA: It must be noted that many hearings have not taken place. With the massive influx of refugees last year, the system was overwhelmed, both in terms of the border as well as receiving centres. As far as legal aid goes, there’s perpetual catch up and until now, a lot of improvisation has been going on. Amongst other things, people are caught without being able to access the legal services to check with lawyers if the files of asylum seekers are well prepared. Lawyers today are disarmed, they’re giving up. Arbitrary criteria are being left to the discretion of those who, in our opinion, have received refusal and acceptance quotas.
Quotas were more or less announced last year when Emmanuel Dubourg was sent to the U.S. on two occasions to discourage the Haitian community. He agreed to go. The first time he was sent, just like Mr. Trudeau and Marc Garneau, who were first to speak, he said that between 40 to 50 per cent of Haitian asylum seekers were being accepted. Dubourg returned a second time, and brought the message that only 10 per cent were being accepted. This was done to deter not only Haitians but also Salvadorans and other communities. The 10 per cent was based on an analysis of 297 cases, of which only 29 had been accepted. But the 270 others have the right of recourse federally, on humanitarian grounds, etc. And 297 cases out of around 6,000 is not representative. Between 2012 and 2016, the acceptance rate was between 40 and 50 per cent. Last year, it fell to 22 per cent. Two weeks ago, the rate was 17 per cent. And now, I believe, it is close to 10 per cent.
I began accompanying people to 1010 Saint-Antoine Street West [Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada Quebec Office – Chantier politique Ed. Note] in June, only to find that people are being received in such an extremely disgraceful, disrespectful and aggressive manner to determine whether or not the person might resist, and if they should be immediately detained. They are then sent to the Laval Detention Centre. There are about 150 people there. And now they have decided to build another detention centre right beside the present one, because that one is supposedly obsolete. However, I think that it’s to increase detention capacity, because the Canadian government has announced that between now and March 2019, it will increase the number of deportations to 10,000. In a pre-election year, it must appear to be in control. Therefore it is using a particularly precarious community, Haitians, and deporting them. We are invoking the situation of civil war to demand a moratorium. They are also being deported at the taxpayer’s expense. If people have no money to buy their ticket, the government supplies it but then people are told that if they come back, they must reimburse the ticket. I found tickets last week for $280. The government is asking $1,500. Besides this they must pay over $550 in application fees to come back. So it costs $2,050 for the right to return, on top of other fees.
CP: What would you like to say to conclude?
FA: I invite people to come out and demonstrate this Sunday, December 2 at 2:00 pm, outside the riding office of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, at 1100 Cremazie Boulevard East to demand an immediate moratorium on deportations.
(Translated from original French by Chantier politique. Photos: Chantier politique, Haiti Progrès, Haiti Liberté)