Canadian border enforcement officials had a “hidden” policy of punishing immigration detainees by prolonging their detention if they refused to co-operate in the deportation process, a tribunal has heard.
The claim was made at a detention review on Wednesday by the lawyer of Abdirahmaan Warssama, 51, a Toronto man who has been held for five-and-a-half years at the Lindsay jail for deportation to Somalia.
Based on Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) internal correspondence obtained under access to information requests and testimony of a removal officer, Sudbodh Bharati rebutted earlier government arguments that Warssama’s lengthy detention was his own making because he’s refused to sign the necessary consent form to say he’s returning to Somalia voluntarily.
The internal documents “suggest that if somebody is not going to sign the form, he should remain in detention until they are ready to sign,” Bharati told adjudicator Karina Henrique.
“How is the government able to do this?” he asked. “It’s upsetting to me. This person is not a number. He’s a human being locked away for (more than) five years, especially when he is not a danger to the public.”
Government counsel, Denis Giuliani and Kirsten Dapat, said consent was required by African Express Airlines, the only carrier willing to transport the deportee for the last leg of the trip from Nairobi to Mogadishu without an official escort.
They had argued that the consent form — a kind of statutory declaration — was required only for boarding, identification and transit authorization purposes. They also warned that allowing Warssama out of detention would open the floodgate for others to delay deportation by not co-operating.
However, citing the CBSA documents, Bharati pointed out it was the Somali government that refuses to accept forced removals unless a deportee shows a “genuine desire and willingness to return to Somalia.”
Bharati, quoting from an internal email by one CBSA officer, said even if a detainee refused to sign the consent form, it’s not considered “non-compliance” to the removal proceeding, which would warrant an extended detention.
He said the law stipulates the purpose of immigration detention is to effect removal and Warssama should be released if he didn’t do anything non-compliant to his removal. His client’s sister in Toronto, Kiine, has offered a bond for his bail, he added.
“The delay is not due to Warssama but CBSA’s own removal policies to Somalia,” said Bharati, who likened CBSA officials’ insistence on the signed consent to coercing his client to perjure himself.
Warssama fled to Toronto from Mogadishu in 1989 and his asylum claim was refused, though he was allowed to stay in Canada on humanitarian grounds. He kept moving around and never obtained his permanent residence status.
He was later arrested and charged for some minor crimes. Since he isn’t a permanent resident or a citizen, his criminality made him inadmissible to Canada. The hearing resumes Thursday.