Mohamed Duale can still remember the feeling in the pit of his stomach when a border officer stopped and subjected him to a battery of questions as he tried to re-enter Canada last year.
“It’s because of where you were born — you’re Somalian, right?” the Canadian citizen recalled the agent telling him.
It was a moment that he says stopped him in his tracks.
“I was literally frozen … Being a Black, male, Muslim person with about a dozen CBSA officers alone in a front gate of a departure gate, I’m literally scared,” Duale said.
“I never thought that the discrimination would be so overt or verbalized in such clarity. And it’s words that I will never forget for as long as I live,” he told CBC News.
The interaction, which allegedly happened Sept. 2, 2019, is now the subject of a complaint filed against the Canadian Border Services Agency and accepted by the Canadian Human Rights Commission this past August.
Representing Duale is the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), which argues the 33-year-old’s experience is part of a broader pattern of discrimination by the CBSA and underlines the need for independent oversight of the agency — something that was in Bill C-3 last year before it died on the order paper when Parliament was prorogued over the summer.
‘A pattern that is systemic’
“The reality is that discrimination at the border, at the hands of the CBSA, is a pattern that is systemic,” NCCM chief executive officer Mustafa Farooq told CBC News,
Farooq also cites a 2019 report by the auditor general that found the agency did not do enough to address harassment and discrimination in the workplace. He says it shows there are problems with how the CBSA treats people both inside and outside the organization.
“That is the culture. That is the problem at the CBSA,” said Farooq, adding his organization has received two to three complaints per month about the agency over the last year and a half.
A doctoral student at York University, Duale had been travelling back from doing research in a refugee camp, when he arrived at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport close to 5 p.m.
Shortly after disembarking, he says in the complaint, he was told to proceed to secondary screening — something he’d never been asked to do before. There, he says, a “white female CBSA officer” asked him whether he was really a PhD student, what his dissertation topic was and his central argument.
Although examination may seem unpleasant at times, and the relevance of questions posed by our officers may not be obvious… they assist in verifying a traveller’s declaration.– CBSA
Duale says he explained he had been researching the experiences of refugee youth, but as the questions grew more detailed, he says he told the officer he wasn’t obligated to disclose such information to enter his own country.
At that point, he says, the officer put his passport in her pocket and said she wouldn’t return it until he sufficiently answered her questions. Duale tried again to explain the purpose of his trip, but added he hadn’t written his dissertation yet and hadn’t come up with a central argument.
‘Interrogated for trying to enter my own country’
According to the complaint, the agent asked why he wanted to do a PhD. Duale responded that he wanted to become an academic and asked for his passport back, to which the agent replied he would need to show additional identification.
After inspecting his driver’s licence, he says, the officer “threw the passport” into his hand and that it fell to the ground. As he bent down to pick it up, he says the officer told him, “You look nervous.”
“I replied that I was nervous because I was being interrogated for trying to enter my own country,” Duale said, asking the officer why he’d been treated this way.
It’s at that point that the agent allegedly told him it was because of where he was born, saying he was “Somalian” and adding it was her job to ensure “everyone has the passport that belonged to them.”
Duale says he replied that “Somalian” is an offensive characterization of Somali people and that being born somewhere else doesn’t make a person any less a citizen. Born in Mogadishu, Duale had been a Canadian citizen for 15 years at the time of the incident.
Officers acted professionally, CBSA review finds
When he tried to file a complaint with the CBSA, he says, another officer told him, “Normally there isn’t a problem unless people don’t tell the truth.”
In October of 2019, the CBSA responded to Duale’s complaint, concluding its officers carried out their duties professionally and followed proper procedures.
“You have made strong accusations regarding the comportment and integrity of our officers … The findings of our review do not support the allegations you have made,” the letter said.
“Although examination may seem unpleasant at times, and the relevance of questions posed by our officers may not be obvious and may seem intrusive, they assist in verifying a traveller’s declaration and purpose for travelling.”
But Carleton University professor James Milner, who supervised Duale’s research in Kenya, says he has never seen a case as overt as Duale’s.
“It’s certainly the most egregious example of unprofessional behaviour that I’ve heard in the context of an immigration official here in Canada,” said Milner, who is also the project director for the Local Engagement Refugee Research Network — a team of researchers and practitioners “committed to promoting protection and solutions with and for refugees,” according to its website.
“As a white male, middle-aged Canadian myself, my experiences crossing borders are typically cordial … And so there is clearly a differentiation based on nationality, based on name, which evokes deeper questions about the way that profiling continues to be used in our border control systems.
Oversight ‘a noted priority’ for public safety minister
Immigration lawyer Guidy Mamann says CBSA officers have the full authority to ask any questions they like but believes in many cases the law gives them too much leeway.
“The officer, in my view, has way too much power. They have the right to copy all of the data in your laptop, all of the data in your phone. They have the right to go through all of your documents,” he said.
“Some of that in certain circumstances is appropriate. But I have seen that done in situations where it defies belief.”
Creating an oversight body is a “noted priority” for Canada’s Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair, a spokesperson told CBC News.
“Minister Blair remains focused on modernizing policing structures and updating standards regarding use of force, and looks forward to tabling legislation that will strengthen oversight in our agencies and increase public trust,” said Blair’s press secretary Mary-Liz Power.
Power added that “there is much more work to do to dismantle the systems that perpetuate racism in our country.”
Anti-Black racism ‘part of life in Canada’
CBSA spokesperson Rebecca Purdy told CBC News it has not received word from the human rights commission of Duale’s complaint but that when complaints are filed, the CBSA “cooperates fully” with the process.
Purdy added that the agency is committed to ensuring all travellers are treated fairly, and that discriminatory behaviour is “not tolerated” by the CBSA.
The agency also says all complaints received by the CBSA are handled in an efficient, professional and impartial manner.
Meanwhile, Duale, who was at the top of his class before the incident, says the encounter left him depressed and demoralized to the point that he couldn’t focus on writing, was sleeping excessively and had to request multiple extensions on deadlines because of his anxiety.
“It’s hard to put down in a few moments a lifetime of experience being discriminated against as a Black man in Canada … It’s been my whole life, really” Duale said.
“It’s part of life in Canada.”
Would-be immigrant to Canada learns the hard way after online consultant denies refund – CBC.ca
For Rene Todd, it began as a simple quest for a refund.
Shortly after signing up for an online Canadian immigration service in August, the South African woman changed her mind and decided she wanted her money back.
But a string of frustrating emails and a few months later, Todd’s journey has turned into a rabbit hole — an odyssey into the world of online sales, fake testimonials, toothless regulators and international operators preying on the desperation of people dreaming of a life in Canada. Her experience illustrates the need for legislation and funding to boost investigations and enforcement around online immigration services.
Todd doesn’t just want her money back anymore. She just wants accountability.
“I cannot stand unfairness,” she said.
“But it was actually also almost a fascination with getting to the truth of exactly what is going on here. So it probably did get into something a little bit bigger than a refund.”
‘A huge red flag’
According to its website, Professional Immigration Consultants of Canada, or PROICC, “focuses on helping clients from all over the globe start their process toward immigrating to Canada in the easiest and quickest way.”
The company offers a “basic” service for “visa assessment” and a “gold” package for “eligible individuals” to shepherd their applications with the help of immigration professionals.
Todd, who lives with her husband and three children in Cape Town, first came across PROICC after taking an online test for Canadian eligibility that popped up as an ad on one of her favourite news sites.
Not only was she eligible, but a PROICC representative contacted her within days. After a couple more calls, she said, the representative accused her of wasting his time.
“Under normal circumstances, this is where I would have ended the call,” Todd said.
“Perhaps because I did not wish to look not serious in such a serious matter and because he was offering a ‘special today’ at $279 US as opposed to the usual charge of $479 US, I continued with the transaction. With hindsight, this was a huge red flag.”
Complaints to Better Business Bureau
Todd began researching the company and came across a series of complaints to the Better Business Bureau. Her husband also had concerns about her giving out her credit card information over the phone, and so she cancelled her card and called to ask for her money back.
And that’s when Todd started exchanging emails with Amelia Adams, who claimed to represent PROICC’s “legal division.”
Adams insisted in an email that the terms of the “special offer” meant there could be no refund.
Todd said no one told her that when she paid over the phone.
Adams said it was on PROICC’s website under “terms and conditions.”
Todd, a trained but non-practising lawyer, noticed that Adams’s email signature said “Vancouver, Canada,” and so she sent her a copy of a British Columbia law requiring that refund policies be explained to distance sales customers and asked “under what law do you get to opt out of statutes on refunds?”
Adams wrote back: “Because we are an international company.”
At that point, Todd reached out to CBC News.
Vancouver address on website, but no actual listing
A Google search says PROICC is located at 1021 West Hastings St., an office building in Vancouver’s city centre. But there’s no listing for the company at that address, and a receptionist at a shared office space said she had no record of PROICC ever being there.
There is also no Amelia Adams listed in the Law Society of British Columbia’s directory of lawyers.
On PROICC’s website, the “About Us” section features testimonials from three supposedly happy customers: Celina Lindberg of Denmark, Andres Bartoludo of Argentina and Thorsten Stormer of Germany.
“I have my Permanent Resident card and now I live in the Canada with my kids, finally giving them a better future,” Lindberg is quoted as saying.
Bartoludo agreed: “I moved to Canada to be with my partner. PROICC is the only reason I completed everything successfully.”
But both Lindberg and Bartoludo — until the CBC began asking questions — were included on U.S. immigration websites owned by the same parent company as PROICC: “I have my Green card and now I live in the U.S. with my kids, finally giving them a better future,” Lindberg said on a U.S. site.
And Bartoludo said: “I moved to the U.S. to be with my partner ….”
On further inspection, Stormer’s photograph also turns up elsewhere on the internet: as a stock image people can download if they need a “portrait of a young smiling man.”
When Todd initially began to worry about PROICC, she said she looked at those pictures.
“So that kind of gave me a bit of comfort that actually they are legitimate,” she said.
“But now … not even that is real.”
Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre investigates complaints
Until this week, when CBC News began asking questions, the owner of the U.S. sites, PROICC and another Canadian online immigration consultancy — Canadaims immigration Services — was listed as Indigo Ltd., an Israeli company located in Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv.
The owner of PROICC has now changed to Canada Immigration Ltd., though the telephone number remains the same.
Indigo’s CEO, Amit Shulian, did not respond to an email or a phone call requesting comment.
The terms and conditions attached to both the PROICC and Canadaims websites claim the company’s liability is governed by the “Exclusive Courts of Spain.”
In one detail that also changed after CBC contacted PROICC, prior to this week customers were warned that any information and documents they sent in were being uploaded to another website and its servers: itscanadatime.com.
That associated entity, itscanadatime.com, was the subject of a Radio-Canada investigation into a series of Israeli-based immigration websites that have generated hundreds of complaints to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
In the days after CBC emailed two queries to PROICC, the terms and conditions changed. Customers are now warned that their documents are being uploaded to proicc.com.
Jeff Thomson, a senior RCMP analyst with the fraud centre, said it has received three reports about PROICC in the past two years and another related to the company’s phone number.
The most recent complaint, in July, was filed online, and Thomson shared it with CBC News.
“Our home was destroyed in our country and we lost everything and we wanted a better way of life for us,” the complaint reads.
The complainant said they paid $39 for an assessment last January and were told by PROICC that they were excellent candidates for the Express Entry system to Canada. All it would cost was $990 for each of three family members.
“We proceeded and charged the $2,970 on our credit card,” the complaint reads.
After months of calling, the complainant said a company representative told them they were accepted for Express Entry and that the next step in the process was the company would help them to look for jobs. But that would cost another $4,500.
The worried complainant did some more research.
“I found that the Express Entry is not a simple process and that we didn’t meet all the criteria to even be good candidates for this route,” the complaint reads. “We want our full $2970 from PROICC. That’s all we want so that we can try to pick up the pieces and make something of the rest of our lives.”
Thomson said the complaints — like so many involving immigration — are heartbreaking.
“We know that there’s questionable activity going on,” he said.
“They’re using our reputation to try and solicit people and collect the fee to help them immigrate.”
Enforcement power needed
Michael Huynh, director of professional conduct for the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC), said his organization is aware of PROICC, but there’s not much it can do but say “buyer beware.”
“There’s a lot of companies like this that are on our radar,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that there’s very little effort at this point done to control this proliferation. And there certainly needs to be a greater investment of resources and effort.”
In Canada, only members of the ICCRC, lawyers registered with one of 13 provincial or territorial law societies or notaries registered in Quebec can legally offer immigration advice or services for a fee.
Huynh’s organization is waiting for Parliament to proclaim legislation to give it statutory power to act as a professional college that can regulate the industry as a whole.
He said the ICCRC needs the power of enforcement to build a “body of immigration professionals who can start to instil appropriate values and fair practices across the entire immigration industry and stem this proliferation of these quasi-scams — if not outright scams.”
In a statement, Citizenship and Immigration Canada said the 2019 federal budget included $51.9 million to “increase investigations and enforcement, expand public awareness and strengthen the oversight of consultants.”
Huynh said PROICC may provide some level of service, but no one needs to pay to assess their eligibility to work, study, visit, travel through or live permanently in Canada. The government provides a free tool on its website.
On its website — again in the terms and conditions that customers like Todd say they were not advised of on the phone — PROICC warns that “preliminary eligibility assessments do not constitute personal immigration advice and do not guarantee the issuance of immigration visas or other documents to the user.”
And it also points to Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to say that anyone wanting immigration advice or representation will have to go through “an authorized representative.”
Thomson, the RCMP anti-fraud analyst, said he wonders whether the time has come to start “regulating the promotion of access to government services where people are making money off people trying to access these services that are otherwise free to access.”
As Todd’s experience indicates, when a customer wants a refund or to challenge the level of service provided by an organization such as PROICC, they find themselves wondering exactly who lies behind the website, its shadowy associated entities and its phoney testimonials.
“At the end of the day, they’re not accountable to any organization, so the consumer is taking a huge risk,” Huynh said.
‘You are absolutely mistaken’
Todd had her last email conversation with Amelia Adams in August.
This week, CBC sent PROICC a long list of questions about its legal status, ownership and relationship with itscanadatime.com. The next day, Todd said Adams called her “literally … 15 times.”
She said Adams now claims that her money was refunded two months ago after Todd threatened to contact CBC, the Law Society of B.C., Huynh’s organization and others.
Todd said she has no record of the refund, and she had already cancelled her card. She has asked her bank to investigate. But she’s skeptical that her money was refunded, given that the last she heard from Adams in an email before going public was: “You are absolutely mistaken in what you are stating, therefore there is no reason for me to keep giving you the same answer over and over again.”
Todd said she’ll consider Adams’s explanation for her sudden reversal, but she’ll need written proof before she believes anything.
3.5 million people who arrived in Canada since March exempted from quarantine requirement – Global News
OTTAWA – More than 4.6 million people have arrived in Canada since the border closed last March but less than one-quarter of them were ordered to quarantine — the rest were deemed “essential” and exempted from the requirement.
The Canada Border Services Agency provides data each week on the number of people arriving in Canada by land or air, saying “most” people entering the country must quarantine for two weeks.
Essential travellers include truck drivers, airline crew members, health-care workers, members of the military, people living in border communities who need to perform everyday functions in Canada, and people Ottawa deems essential to managing the pandemic.
The Public Health Agency of Canada provided data to The Canadian Press that shows 4.6 million people arrived in Canada since March 21, when the border was to be closed to all non-essential travel.
Of those, 3.5 million were considered essential while 1.1 million people were non-essential travellers and ordered to quarantine.
Health Canada data on 80 per cent of the confirmed cases to date shows about 4.4 per cent of the total number of positive cases of COVID-19 in this country involved recent travellers or people who came into contact with them.
Calls to change rules of point of entry for coronavirus quarantine
© 2020 The Canadian Press
Landmark settlement is a message to Canadian companies extracting resources overseas: Amnesty International – CBC.ca
A human rights lawsuit alleging slavery and torture has been settled outside of court with a Canadian mining company for an undisclosed but “significant” amount, according to Amnesty International.
In February 2020 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the case could be heard in B.C. despite the fact it involved events in Africa.
The terms of the settlement remain confidential but human rights advocates say the outcome of this legal proceeding will resonate.
Tara Scurr is the business and human rights campaigner for Amnesty International Canada.
She says this case — brought forward by three refugees from Eritrea — involved allegations of torture, slavery and other human rights abuses.
The fact that the Canadian mining company opted to settle the dispute will send a message.
“It’s a precedent-setting case. It’s the first time that level of human rights abuse has been brought before a Canadian court for the activities of a Canadian extractives company overseas,” said Scurr.
She said this serves as an example that such cases can be heard in Canada and result in significant settlements with corporations.
The case was first filed in 2014 by former mine workers Gize Yebeyo Araya, Kesete Tekle Fshazion and Mihretab Yemane Tekle.
The trio of Eritrean refugees alleged that Nevsun was responsible for benefiting from human rights abuses including slavery, forced labour, torture and crimes against humanity during construction of its copper and gold mine in Eritrea.
Amnesty International said in a news release that the terms of the settlement between the company and the three refugees are confidential.
The secretary general of Amnesty International Canada lauded the courage of the mine workers who came forward with their “horrific” experiences in a “groundbreaking” lawsuit.
“These individuals helped pave the way for corporate accountability overseas. Canadian companies must take responsibility for alleged human rights abuses associated with their operations, not just on Canadian soil, but anywhere in the world,” said Ketty Nivyabandi.
SCOC allowed it to proceed in B.C.
In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court dismissed Nevsun’s appeal of the case and allowed it to proceed in B.C., affirming that international law applied to both states and corporations and making it clear that companies can be tried in Canada over serious allegations in other countries.
During the proceedings Nevsun denied that the company or any subsidiaries enlisted the Eritrean military to build the mine or supply labour, and said the refugees behind the court action were not mistreated.
B.C. courts dismissed Nevsun’s attempts to make Eritrea the forum for the lawsuit.
In its March decision, the Supreme Court rejected the company’s argument that Canadian courts are precluded from assessing the sovereign acts of a foreign government, including Eritrea’s national military service program.
The court also noted that customary international law — the common law of the international legal system — embraces fundamental norms, including prohibitions against slavery, forced labour and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
Scurr said the trio who first brought the case continue to suffer trauma because of their experiences.
She said workers described being bound and beaten, tied up in the hot sun and left for hours, while earning about $30 US per month. There was no sick leave and they faced retribution that affected their families if they took any leave.
She said the settlement is a relief for the families, despite the fact details about who was involved won’t be publicized.
“It saves them giving testimony, giving evidence, having every single issue scrutinized and debated while they are still recovering from the terrific abuses they suffered. In fact, fantastic for them that the case has been settled. I know that they are very happy.”
CBC reached out to former Nevsun executives who declined comment.
Requests to Zijin Mining Group Company, a Chinese company that acquired Nevsun in 2018 for $1.9 billion, have gone unanswered.
In previous statements, Nevsun denied all allegations and said it planned to “vigorously defend itself in court.”
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