Canada Arrests US Human Rights Worker at Border Crossing

Thursday, October 4, 2007

A US human rights worker arrested at the Canadian border last week has returned home. Janet Hinshaw-Thomas, director of the Pennsylvania based PRIME - Ecumenical Commitment to Refugees, was assisting 12 Haitian refugee claimants across Quebec’s Lacolle border on September 26 when she was arrested and detained under Article 117 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

The article makes it a crime to “knowingly organize, induce, aid or abet” the entrance into Canada of people without a visa, passport or other relevant documents. After one night in jail, the 65 year-old was released on a $5000 bond, but is expected to return to Canada for a hearing next month.

According to Glora Nafziger, the Refugee Coordinator at Amnesty International Canada, this is the first time Article 117, which is listed under the subsection “Human Trafficking and Smuggling,” has been applied to a humanitarian worker.

“We have no idea why this individual, or why at this time, somebody was singled out to be charged under this provision, because humanitarian workers have been conducting exactly this type of activity for years and have never been arrested or challenged for that,” Nafziger said.

“Certainly when the act was written there were concerns because it was clear that it could cover humanitarian workers… But there were assurances at the time that it would never be used against humanitarian workers – it was explicitly there to trap people who were trafficking or smuggling.”

Amnesty International Canada has started a letter-writing campaign asking the Canadian government to withdraw the charges against Hinshaw-Thomas and amend Article 117 so that humanitarian workers will not be charged.

“Canada has been trying very hard for a long time to close the doors to people claiming refugee status. And this is just one more way of trying to close the doors to refugees.”

Kareen Dion, a spokesperson for the Canadian Border Services Agency in Quebec would not comment on Hinshaw-Thomas’ specific case or confirm whether she is the first humanitarian worker to be charged under Article 117.

“The way the article works is…it says no person shall knowingly aid or abet,” Dion said. “This article clearly applies to anyone who is caught helping someone to illegally cross the border.”

- Kareen Dion, Canada Border Services Agency, Quebec; Gloria Nafziger, Amnesty International Canada

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