Nfld. & Labrador

Hack forces refugee advocacy group to take website down — right when it's most needed

Many new Canadians are arriving for university and many others are trying to decide whether to leave — and they're likely looking for RIAC's help, says Jose Rivera.

It's grant season and funders will be looking for RIAC's website, says director

Jose Rivera said the RIAC website was taken down completely on Tuesday. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

After its website was hacked, the Refugee and Immigrant Advisory Council (RIAC) was forced to take down its website, right when it's most important.

The site began loading disturbing content instead of its usual information assisting new Canadians and refugees in the province about a month ago, and persisted as an on-and-off issue.

But last week, it got so bad, it had to be taken down completely.

"It's better to have nothing," said Jose Rivera, the organization's director, who describes the things on the site some visitors saw as "triple-x."

As of Tuesday, there's now nothing left of the site, though some visitors are still seeing cached versions of the hacked site, he said.

"It just doesn't end," he said. "This is really hurtful to us."

Timing couldn't be worse

Losing its website would be a tough at any time of year for the small St. John's-based non-profit, but this is time of year when funders are reviewing RIAC's grant applications, he said.

He's worried they'll go looking for RIAC and find nothing — or worse.

Rivera says RIAC received many offers of help since the hack. (Shutterstock/Dan74)

It's also an important time of year for refugees and new Canadians in Newfoundland and Labrador, he said.

New international students are preparing to move to the province right now, he said.

This is also a time of high-traffic from other refugees and new Canadians who have already arrived.

"This is the time when people are making the hard decision to either stay or go out of the province," he said.

They're assessing their employment, education and transportation needs and they're heading to RIAC's site to see how the organization can help them, he said.

Until RIAC gets a new site up and running, those people aren't finding the help they need.

Many offers of help

But a new site is on the horizon, Rivera said.

Since word about the hack got out, lots of people have volunteered to build a new site, some from as far away as British Columbia, he said.

"It's overwhelming," he said about the support RIAC has received.

Rivera says the organization's email is still working just fine, "so we are good to go there."

RIAC also has a Facebook page and a Twitter feed for anyone looking to get in touch and find out about the programs and support they offer.

Read more stories from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Bailey White