CBSA immigration arrests during spot checks stir controversy

A CBC Exclusive shows that the arrests of 21 undocumented workers during a routine vehicle safety blitz is causing controversy for the Canada Border Services Agency and Ontario Provincial Police.
The OPP and CBSA arrested 21 undocumented workers during a vehicle safety blitz Thursday. (The Canadian Press)

The arrests of 21 undocumented workers during a vehicle safety blitz Thursday is causing controversy for the Canada Border Services Agency and Ontario Provincial Police.

On Aug. 14 the OPP, along with officials from the ministries of transportation and environment, and the CBSA, took part in a vehicle spot checks in northwest Toronto, around Wilson Avenue between Jane Street and Highway 400.

CBSA told CBC News on Friday it arrested 21 people who were "in violation of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act." 

But, because the arrests were made during vehicle safety check, some question the methods and motivations of the CBSA and OPP.

Immigration lawyer Guidy Mamann said this is “not routine” and is, in fact, “a huge breach of public trust.”

“In the guise of looking for safety issues … they are abusing that power and using it for whatever they feel like," Mamann said. 

“Safety blitzes are to determine whether or not the vehicles are safe and roadworthy, not to determine what your immigration status is. They are not connected." 

'Racial profiling'

Syed Hussan, who is with the migrant activist group No One Is Illegal, said the pairing of the CBSA with the OPP amounts to targeted racial profiling. 

“It’s a sweep, it’s racial profiling stopping cars in Jane and Finch under the guise of a traffic stop then coercing everyone to hand over their IDs, then detaining them,” Hussan said.

Geraldine Ortiz said her 27-year-old brother-in-law from Mexico was among those stopped on Thursday. He has been working for a contractor as a painter, is married to a Canadian woman and is currently in the process of making a citizenship claim, she said. 

“They didn’t ID themselves as police or CBSA, they just told them to pull over and produce ID,” Ortiz told CBC News. 

He was handcuffed and detained, she said. He has since been released. 

Mamann says, even though officials found immigration violations, there is a bigger question about how the arrests were made.

“Even though they appeared to have arrested some people who have some immigration issues, the questions that Canadians have to ask themselves is how much rope are we going to give the government, how much privacy do we want and do we need,” he said.

“Can I walk down the street and just be randomly picked off … to be screened by these various government agencies even though [they] have no reasonable or probable cause that you’ve done anything wrong?”

The CBSA said there are many undocumented workers across the GTA and the arrests Thursday show the complexity of the issue.