Canadian border officials halt most deportations in face of COVID-19
Rejected immigration applicants receive temporary reprieve during global pandemic
Canadian border officials have halted deportations of rejected refugees and immigrants in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
The rejected applicants will receive temporary reprieves from scheduled removals during the global pandemic that has reduced the openness of international borders and limited the availability of international flights, Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) said in a statement to CBC News late Tuesday.
"In light of the current circumstances and in the best interest of officers and clientele, the Government of Canada, in conjunction with the Canada Border Services Agency, has decided to stop carrying out removals at the current time," the agency said.
"The removal of serious criminal cases may continue but this would be via exception only, following a case-by-case assessment by senior staff."
The United States and Canada have agreed to close the shared border to non-essential travel.
Border officials will ensure all immigrations lawyers will be notified of the deportation cancellations soon, CBSA said.
Anyone wishing to leave the country, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, will be allowed to do so on their own, the agency added, although it is unclear if some of those trips would be prohibited under the U.S.-Canada border closure.
Immigration lawyers have been inquiring about deferring scheduled removals for health and safety reasons, given the World Health Organization has declared a global pandemic.
Alberta immigration lawyer Orlagh O'Kelly received a response from CBSA on Tuesday confirming a temporary deferral of one of her client's scheduled removals.
"Removals are cancelled until further notice unless meeting certain exceptions," the CBSA enforcement case officer wrote.
The agent said in the letter that CBSA recognizes the "unpredictable and unique situation" presented by COVID-19.
"I think the subtext of that is undoubtedly that we're dealing with a very infectious disease," O'Kelly said. "So I hope that that reasoning continues to hold throughout this pandemic."
She said individuals facing deportation may be at risk of infection but the CBSA officers who accompany them would also be at risk.
"To me, that is not essential right now, to be enforcing removal orders," O'Kelly said. "There's a lot of other areas on which CBSA should and obviously is focusing their resources."
Lawyers are waiting to hear how long the pause on deportations will continue. O'Kelly said they can file applications with the Federal Court if removals are rescheduled to go ahead. There's been no suggestion they will be any time soon, she said.
"We're still waiting on edge," she said. "But at this time, we have a bit of a reprieve."
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has also cancelled all citizenship ceremonies and tests, and postponed all in-person refugee claim and in-person permanent resident landing appointments until April 13.