RCMP ac­cused of pro­fil­ing in Que­bec

The Globe and Mail (Ottawa/Quebec Edition) - - NEWS - INGRID PERITZ MONTREAL DANIEL LEBLANC OTTAWA

‘In­ter­view guide’ used by of­fi­cers to ques­tion asy­lum seek­ers asks about feel­ings to­ward Is­lam, re­li­gious prac­tices and ter­ror groups

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment is un­der fire for an RCMP screen­ing ques­tion­naire that asks asy­lum seek­ers how they feel about Mus­lim head­scarves, the Is­lamic State and whether they would mind hav­ing a fe­male boss.

The “in­ter­view guide” had been used by fed­eral of­fi­cers in Que­bec, where more than 10,000 refugee claimants have surged into the prov­ince from a U.S. land cross­ing this year.

The guide came to light af­ter one asy­lum seeker, who ap­peared to have been given a copy of the ques­tions in­ad­ver­tently, showed them to his lawyer in Toronto.

The of­fice of Pub­lic Safety Min­is­ter Ralph Goodale said it quickly in­ter­vened to get the na­tional po­lice force to drop the in­ves­tiga­tive tool.

“The minute we be­came aware of the in­ter­view guide, we were im­me­di­ately con­cerned and con­tacted the RCMP. Some of the ques­tions were in­ap­pro­pri­ate and in­con­sis­tent with gov­ern­ment pol­icy,” spokesman Scott Bard­s­ley said.

“The RCMP is com­mit­ted to pro­tect­ing the safety of Cana­di­ans and keep­ing our bor­ders se­cure. At the same time, peo­ple seek­ing asy­lum in Canada must be treated with re­spect, com­pas­sion and af­forded due process un­der the law,” Mr. Bard­s­ley said.

The RCMP said the data ob­tained through the ques­tion­naire were still in the force’s data­base, which can be shared with other agen­cies, such as the Canada Bor­der Ser­vices Agency.

“The refugee claim process is sep­a­rate from the RCMP’s pre­lim­i­nary risk as­sess­ment,” added RCMP Cor­po­ral An­nie Delisle.

Refugee lawyers crit­i­cized the three-page ques­tion­naire as tan­gi­ble ev­i­dence of pro­fil­ing be­cause it sin­gled out Mus­lim claimants.

For ex­am­ple, it asks how the would-be refugees felt about women who did not cover their heads with the hi­jab, or what they thought about the Is­lamic State or the Tal­iban. There are no ques­tions re­lated to other re­li­gions.

“I have no ob­jec­tion to se­cu­rity screen­ing,” said Clif­ford McCarten, the Toronto im­mi­gra­tion lawyer who is han­dling the case. “The ob­jec­tion is to this kind of ir­rel­e­vant and dis­crim­i­na­tory ques­tion­ing, which re­veals in­sti­tu­tional bias and ig­no­rance at the RCMP.”

It showed an “ob­ses­sive fo­cus on to­tally su­per­flu­ous re­li­gious prac­tices of Mus­lims,” he said.

Mr. McCarten’s client, from a Mus­lim coun­try, re­ceived the ques­tion­naire this past month.

“If a Jewish per­son was ap­proached at the bor­der and asked for their opin­ions on men who don’t wear yarmulkes, it would be ab­surd for that to be en­tered into a gov­ern­ment data­base,” Mr. McCarten said. “Equally so if a Catholic priest was asked his opin­ions about nuns who don’t wear habits.”

Asy­lum seek­ers cross­ing into Que­bec this year have over­whelm­ingly been of Haitian de­scent. The rest are mostly from In­dia, Mex­ico, Colom­bia and Turkey, ac­cord­ing to the Que­bec im­mi­gra­tion min­istry.

The RCMP ques­tion­naire has also drawn com­par­isons with Que­bec’s doomed char­ter of val­ues and the pro­posal by for­mer Con­ser­va­tive lead­er­ship can­di­date Kel­lie Leitch to screen im­mi­grants for so-called Cana­dian val­ues.

“Canada is a very lib­eral coun­try that be­lieves in free­dom of re­li­gious prac­tice and equal­ity be­tween men and women,” the ques­tion­naire says. “What is your opin­ion on this sub­ject?”

Mr. McCarten also raised con­cerns that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment was ap­par­ently un­aware of RCMP screen­ing prac­tices dur­ing what had been one of the most closely mon­i­tored im­mi­gra­tion op­er­a­tions in re­cent his­tory.

The NDP at­tacked the gov­ern­ment for its “re­li­gious screen­ing” of asy­lum seek­ers.

“The num­ber of times some­one prays should have no bear­ing on their refugee sta­tus. That is not who we are,” said NDP MP Jenny Kwan, who is her party’s im­mi­gra­tion critic.

“It is deeply trou­bling that this test ap­pears to sin­gle out Mus­lim asy­lum seek­ers, who them­selves have been tar­geted by dis­crim­i­na­tory poli­cies out of the U.S.”

The RCMP said it con­ducts “pre­lim­i­nary risk as­sess­ments” to de­ter­mine the back­ground of asy­lum seek­ers, in­clud­ing look­ing for crim­i­nal records.

“When in­di­vid­u­als are in­ter­cepted cross­ing the bor­der il­le­gally, their in­ten­tions are not known,” Cpl. Delisle said.

“Of­fi­cers uti­lize the tools at their dis­posal to con­firm the iden­tity of the in­di­vid­u­als and to as­sess their ac­tiv­i­ties and in­ten­tions while re­spect­ing the hu­man rights of the in­di­vid­ual.”

The ques­tion­naire is now be­ing re­vised “to bet­ter eval­u­ate in­di­vid­u­als com­ing into the coun­try whose ori­gin is un­known, while be­ing re­spect­ful of their sit­u­a­tions.”

RYAN REMIORZ/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

An asy­lum seeker is pro­cessed by RCMP of­fi­cers in Hem­ming­ford, Que., in Au­gust. A ques­tion­naire used for as­sess­ment pur­poses has drawn com­par­isons with Que­bec’s doomed char­ter of val­ues.

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