RCMP Will Redact More Than 5,000 Records Collected Using Questionnaire Targeting Muslim Asylum Seekers
Michelle Shephard, Toronto Star, November 27, 2017
The RCMP announced Monday it will expunge any data on religious and cultural practices collected from Muslim refugee claimants who had crossed the U.S. border at a popular informal crossing in Quebec. The move follows a Star story last month that highlighted the federal police force’s line of questioning.
The data had been obtained using an interview guide that included questions specifically targeting Muslims. The RCMP stopped using the questionnaire after the Star brought it to the attention of the force’s national headquarters.
The information, which includes “operational files as well as any audio recordings on DVD,” will be held in sealed envelopes for the two years the force is required to keep the information due to privacy legislation, the RCMP wrote.
In total, the RCMP said it collected 5,438 files containing a completed questionnaire or references to one. Those records will be “permanently redacted” from electronic databases, and sealed recordings will be retained “for two years after its last use for an administrative purpose” and then destroyed, the RCMP wrote in a statement to the Star.
The RCMP also shared this information with the Canada Border Services Agency. When contacted by the Star Monday, a CBSA spokesperson said the agency is looking into the matter.
While refugee lawyers who had worked with the thousands of men, women and children seeking asylum had anecdotally heard about questions that profiled Muslims, it wasn’t until a client of Toronto lawyer Clifford McCarten was handed his completed questionnaire by mistake that there was proof of its use.
RCMP officers had been using a questionnaire at the informal Roxham Rd. border crossing in Quebec for a year between October 2016 and last month. The guide asked asylum seekers how they feel about women who do not wear the hijab, how many times they pray and what their opinion is about the Islamic State or the Taliban.
No other religions were mentioned in the questionnaire, despite the fact that the majority of claimants are from Haiti or other non-Muslim countries.
Question 31 on the RCMP form, written in both English and French reads: “Canada is a very liberal country that believes in freedom of religious practice and equality between men and women. What is your opinion on the subject? How would you feel if your boss was a woman?”
When contacted by the Star about the questionnaire last month, there was immediate action. Public Security Minister Ralph Goodale’s spokesperson, Scott Bardsley said, “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,” Bardsley added.
The questionnaire was revised to remove the offensive questions and “any members who had worked at the border were directed to cease using the (former) guide and to destroy any copies in their possession. Members had to confirm either they had done so or that they did not have any copies of the guide,” the RCMP stated Monday.
The “Safe Third Country Agreement” between the U.S. and Canada states that those seeking asylum must apply in their first country of arrival. But a loophole allows U.S. claimants to enter Canada at an unofficial border crossing — such as Roxham Rd.which leads from New York into Quebec — and make a refugee claim.
Canada saw a massive influx of refugee claimants this summer from the U.S. after the Trump administration threatened to revoke many immigrants’ Temporary Protected Status, a special immigration designation that allows those hailing from countries wrecked by natural disasters or conflict to live and work in the U.S.
On Nov. 22, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that it would revoke Temporary Protected Status for Haitians living in the U.S., giving them until July 2019 to return to their country, which many say has not yet recovered from its devastating 2010 earthquake.