No Place for Secrecy in Refugee Proceedings

By Andy Semotiuk | July 16, 2014

US and Canadian Immigration lawyer Andy Semotiuk: I read with interest this piece from Marco Oved, which highlights the secrecy that can surround refugee proceedings in Canada:

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) took Prince Debase Betoukoumessou, 52, from his six children and put him on a plane for the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Monday evening. But the government agency wouldn’t confirm his deportation had even occurred, citing privacy concerns.

The only reason anyone knows of Betoukoumessou’s fate is because his family called the Star the day before he was sent off to one of the most dangerous countries in the world…

Clayton Ruby, a prominent civil rights lawyer says there is no blanket ban that would prevent the CBSA from releasing immigration and refugee information.

“They misuse the privacy legislation, pretending it doesn’t allow them to tell the people of Canada what they’re doing in the name of the people of Canada,” he said. “But it does.”

You can read some background on the case here.
For my money, generally speaking, the Canadian government usually gets refugee judgement calls correct. That said, Oved is right to flag the secrecy with which this proceeding went down.
As far as I am concerned, the government should be required to disclose all its actions in regard to any person – other than actions dealing with medical issues, disclosures related to income tax matters, and actions that could harm the welfare of children. Beyond that, if the government wants to keep something secret, it ought to be required to apply to a judge for permission. Ruby is right to argue that Canadian privacy law is being stretched and abused for unintended purposes.
Secret trials, secret removals, and secrecy in general are the domains of dictatorships, not free societies.

Andy Semotiuk is a Canadian and US immigration lawyer with immigration law firm Pace Immigration. You can learn more about Andy at My Work Visa.