Canada resumes deportations, but 'guardian angels' in Quebec will be spared, says CBSA

The Canada Border Services Agency is deporting people again, but a deal between Quebec and Ottawa to protect migrant health-care workers has not been finalized. The CBSA now says if there is a chance they qualify for permanent residency, they will not be reported.

CBSA says people who could qualify for permanent residency under 'guardian angels' policy will not be deported

The Quebec government brokered a deal with Ottawa to grant residency to asylum seekers who worked in health care during the pandemic, but many have called the program exclusionary for not taking other front-line roles into account. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

The CBSA says health-care workers who could qualify for permanent residency under Quebec's deal with Ottawa to protect the province's so-called "guardian angels" will be able to stay for now.

The federal agency received swift criticism from Quebec immigration lawyers Monday evening, after it sent an email warning them it had lifted a months-long moratorium on deportations.

Several lawyers pointed out that the deal between Quebec and Ottawa had not yet been ratified and that, legally, the CBSA could remove asylum seekers working in hospitals and long-term care homes before the province determines if they are eligible for residency under its new program.

But the CBSA says that is not the case. In a statement sent to CBC Monday night, CBSA spokesperson Rebecca Purdy said "the agency will not be removing those who may be eligible to qualify for permanent residency under the guardian angels public policy."

The number of deportations will "continue to be significantly reduced for some time, and all individuals will continue to have access to all recourse they are entitled to under the law," Purdy said.

The head of Quebec's association of immigration lawyers, Guillaume Cliche-Rivard, says the CBSA's announcement won't do much to calm the anxiety that many asylum seekers are dealing with, since they worked essential jobs during the pandemic's first wave that do not qualify under the policy for "guardian angels." 

"At this time, the program that's been announced only targets orderlies and assistant nurses, and not more," Cliche-Rivard told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

"In a second wave of COVID-19 where a lot of provinces are hitting new records, unfortunately, regarding cases per day, are we capable of affording losing janitors or people cleaning hospitals?"

A spokesperson for Quebec Immigration Minister Nadine Girault said Quebec is working to launch the program soon, but didn't say when that could be.

"We are counting on the full co-operation of the federal government to get the program up and running as quickly as possible," the spokesperson, Flore Bouchon, wrote in an emailed statement.

CBSA's director general of enforcement, Chris Lorenz, informed immigration lawyers in an email Monday the agency would be resuming deportations Nov. 30, after consulting with Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada. 

"This decision was made taking into account the various global factors with respect to COVID-19, such as a gradual reopening of countries, the emergence of viable vaccination options, and coordinated strategies amongst countries and air transport companies to mitigate possible transmission," Lorenz wrote.

with files from Verity Stevenson and Daybreak