Canada’s government deported thousands of people in 2020 during the ongoing Chinese coronavirus pandemic, prompting Canadian immigration lawyers to accuse the government of left-wing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this week of needlessly “endangering” people during the global health crisis.
“Canada counted 12,122 people as removed in 2020 – 875 more than the previous year and the highest number since at least 2015,” Reuters reported on Friday after reviewing data from the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).
The number of deportations increased in 2020 because the figure included people who chose to leave Canada on their own, termed “administrative removals,” according to the CBSA. The agency tallied 8,215 administrative removals in 2020, compared with 1,657 in 2019.
Canada’s government paused most deportations on March 17, 2020, in response to the then-emerging coronavirus pandemic before resuming them over eight months later on November 30.
“The removal of serious criminal cases may continue but this would be via exception only, following a case-by-case assessment by senior staff,” the CBSA said in March when announcing the moratorium.
Since resuming deportations late last year, the CBSA says it has prioritized deportations for reasons of “serious admissibility,” including criminality, according to Reuters. The vast majority of Canada’s deportations in 2020 were due to reasons of “noncompliance,” according to CBSA data.
“Many of the [CBSA’s] deportation trips involve transfers at multiple airports and flights during which people are placed in enclosed space in close quarters with other people for hours at a time, a situation ripe for transmission,” Reuters noted on Friday.
Deportations carried out during a pandemic risk the health of both the deportees and the government officers assigned to accompany them to their destination, immigration lawyers argued this week.
“As everybody is putting in place more restrictions in an effort to flatten the curve … CBSA made a shocking decision to simply go back to business as usual,” Maureen Silcoff, the president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, told Reuters.
“Canada has taken the position that nonessential travel is barred yet people are now being removed and there’s no indication that those removals are essential,” she added, apparently dismissing CBSA’s claim that it had limited deportations only to extreme cases.
CBSA’s director-general of enforcement, Chris Lorenz, informed Canadian immigration lawyers in a November 30 email that the agency decided to resume deportations after careful consultation with Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada.
“This decision was made taking into account the various global factors with respect to COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus], such as a gradual reopening of countries, the emergence of viable vaccination options, and coordinated strategies amongst countries and air transport companies to mitigate possible transmission,” Lorenz wrote.
The CBSA said it had an essential duty to uphold the law when announcing its resumption of deportations in late November.
“The timely removal of failed claimants plays a crucial role in supporting the integrity of Canada’s asylum system,” the agency said in a statement.
“The Canada Border Services Agency has the legal obligation to remove individuals who have no legal right to stay in Canada as soon as possible,” the federal law enforcement agency added.