Canadian Border Services Agency lacks oversight, but that’s only part of the problem

By VICKY MOCHAMA StarMetro Columnist

A Canadian citizen spent eight months in immigration detention. The reason? Agents of the Canadian Border Services Agency “alleged his prints matched those of a fraudulent refugee claimant who was deported to Nigeria in the 1990s,” the Guardian first reported.

In June 2016, Olajide Ogunye provided citizenship papers and an Ontario health card to agents outside his Toronto home. Ogunye has been a Canadian citizen since 1996.

He was nonetheless eventually detained at both Central East and Maplehurst prisons — medium- to maximum-security jails. He is now suing the federal government for $10 million dollars.

His experience is a horrifying one. A key benefit of citizenship is protection from having said citizenship revoked without due process. A federal court affirmed last year that citizenship, once gained, is a right that  cannot be easily or quickly stripped away. CBSA agents and immigration officials should not have been able deprive a citizen of liberty with as much ease as they did in Ogunye’s case.

And yet they were able to. This episode exemplifies the failures and fissures of the immigration system, especially the immigration detention process, that need to be addressed.

There is no system of oversight for the CBSA and its officers. It is one of the few enforcement agencies that operates without one.

A 2017 report by the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association said “despite (CBSA’s) sweeping police powers, there is no independent civilian body to receive complaints, review CBSA’s policies or officer conduct, or investigate allegations of misconduct.”

Scott Bardsley, a spokesman for Public Safety Canada, which runs CBSA, said the government is working on legislation to create an oversight body, and that legislation would be coming before the 2019 election.

Joel Sandaluk, a lawyer at the firm representing Ogunye, said, “There’s very little in the way of correction when it comes to inappropriate behaviour by that agency.”

CBSA, he said, has been shielded from oversight partially because they do not contend with the volume of similar enforcement agencies, be they police or border agencies in other countries.

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