Refugee claimants selling drugs, Burnaby councillor says

Call for all Honduran migrants to be detained

Monday, November 22, 1999 | National Post

Adrienne Tanner National Post

VANCOUVER – Critics of Canada’s immigration system are calling for all Honduran refugee claimants in Vancouver to be jailed pending their hearings because so many of them have been arrested on drug charges.

At a meeting with immigration officials last week, Doug Evans, a Burnaby city councillor, pointed out that the Chinese boat people have been detained since they arrived.

“Why not detain [Honduran claimants] until their hearings come up. They’re no different,” Mr. Evans said.

“The Hondurans are brought here by organized crime. And once they get here they send money back to pay for getting out of Honduras.”

A persistent stream of drug dealers, many of them refugee claimants from Honduras, has afflicted neighbourhoods along the Vancouver area’s Skytrain route for the past two years.

Last week alone, police arrested 30 drug dealers selling crack cocaine in Metrotown Mall near the Burnaby Skytrain station. Of those, 28 were Honduran, Mr. Evans said.

John Reynolds, the Reform party’s justice critic, said that any refugee claimant caught selling drugs should be sent to jail until his immigration hearing comes up.

“I don’t think there’s any question that once they’re picked up for these kind of offences that they should be held,” said Mr. Reynolds.

“We’re not doing what we should be doing, which is protecting Canadians and assisting legitimate refugees from the rest of the world.”

Alastair Boulton, a Vancouver immigration lawyer, also questions why the 400 Chinese migrants were treated more harshly than a group with known links to crime.

“It’s a political decision made somewhere up the chain,” said Mr. Boulton, past chairman of the Canadian Bar Association’s refugee section.

“We detained the Chinese because there was all this political uproar. Although there was a fair bit of media attention about the Hondurans, that decision was never made.”

Rob Johnston, head of enforcement for Citizenship and Immigration Canada in Vancouver, says that refugee claimants cannot be arbitrarily detained.

An independent adjudicator must be convinced the claimant poses a danger to the Canadian public or is unlikely to appear at his or her refugee hearing.

Usually, immigration officials seek to detain only those refugee claimants with criminal records, Mr. Johnston says.

The boat people were not considered a threat, but they were deemed unlikely to carry through with their refugee claims, said George Varnai, B.C.’s regional manager for Canada Immigration.

That judgment was based both on the “surreptitious” way they tried to enter the country and the historically high abandonment rate by Chinese claimants from the Fujian province.

“We have lots of history about Fujianese arrivals. The majority of them disappear,” Mr. Varnai said.

For the last four years, between 63% and 77% of refugee claimants from China have abandoned their claims, according to Immigration and Refugee Board statistics.

The abandonment rate for Honduran claimants, while only 36% in 1996, has climbed steadily and in the first nine months of 1999 stood at 65%.

Mr. Boulton does not want Canada to begin locking up every refugee claimant who crosses the border. “But when you’ve got high no show and allegations of criminality, my goodness.”

Mr. Johnston says his department has concentrated its efforts on improving criminal record checks and speeding up the system.

The number of Hondurans deported rose from 28 in 1998 to 105 so far this year, Mr. Johnston said.

Refugee claimants who come overland from Central America are photographed, fingerprinted and checked for criminal records in the United States. Those with records are detained and deported, he said.

The Immigration and Refugee Board has also sped up the hearing process, and Mr. Johnston’s staff are moving to deport quickly any refugee claimants who commit crimes or simply lose their bid to stay in Canada.

The number of Hondurans deported rose from 28 in 1998 to 105 so far this year, Mr. Johnston said.