Canada Was Deporting People to Libya as the Islamic State Held Mass Executions
Canadian Border Services Agency says it were shipping people back to the war-ravaged country until mid-March.
In the year following the Islamic State's official proclamation that Libya was to be the newest province of its far-flung caliphate, the Canadian government deported 15 Libyan nationals back to that country.
Four Libyans living in Canada were deported in in the first three months of 2015. Another 11 were sent back the year prior.
These deportation orders came despite the mass executions and ongoing fighting. Ottawa was putting people living in Canada on planes and sending them back to the thick of it. That didn't end until last month.
VICE spoke with one immigration lawyer whose clients—a family with children claiming refugee status—were slated to be deported to the Islamic State's newest foothold.
The Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) confirmed the numbers to VICE earlier this week, but refused to offer any details about the deportations. They confirmed that those deportations did not halt until last month.
"As a result of growing widespread violence effecting the entire Libyan population, the CBSA has imposed an Administrative Deferral of Removals (ADR) to Libya as of March 20, 2015," a spokesperson said via email.
That decision came more than nine months after Canada moved all of its embassy staff to a secure location and warned all Canadians not to travel to the war-ravaged state.
"AVOID ALL TRAVEL," reads an advisory posted to a Government of Canada website on June 1, 2014.
"There is a heightened risk of terrorism throughout Libya, including in Benghazi. Terrorist attacks could occur at any time and could target areas frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers," it reads.
From May 2014 to March 2015, the Department of Foreign Affairs sent out eight missives decrying instability, violence, bombings, and targeted assassinations within Libya.
"Canada deplores in the strongest terms the ongoing violence and destruction in Libya and is appalled by the reported incidents of human rights abuses," then-Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said in a November 2014 statement. "Canada stands with the Libyan people in their struggle to defeat terrorism and violence, restore the rule of law, and build a free, prosperous and democratic society."
Despite this, it was signing orders to have Libyan nationals detained and sent back. An immigration lawyer who deals with a number of refugee claims successfully obtained a temporary stay of deportation for her clients—a family with children—in February, because of a medical condition.
Canada participated in the international effort to oust dictator Muammar Gaddafi and install the more Western-friendly National Transitional Council.
In 2012, Libya formed its first post-Gaddafi democratic government. Over the following two years, rebels and militias pushed back against the internationally-recognized government after a disputed election in June 2014. Within a month, Libya was carved into two sections, with a rogue general launching a bloody and aggressive campaign to retake the country. In the vacuum, Islamic State-linked fighters began capturing territory.
ISIS fighters took the coastal city of Derna in the fall of 2014 and built influence in several other towns and cities, including Tripoli and Benghazi. They carried out a spate of successful bombings, assassinations, and beheadings, most of which were filmed and marked by their now-infamous black standard flag.
The most publicized attack was the beheading of 21 Coptic Christian hostages in February.
It's unclear why, in the face of such extreme violence, Canada continued to enforce deportations to the state.
VICE asked CBSA to clarify the exact dates on which the Libyan nations were sent back to the sea of increasing violence.
"It is not a practice of the CBSA to divulge/disclose the enforcement of a removal order," the spokesperson said. "What we can tell you is that between January 2015 and March 20, 2015, four Libyan nationals were removed to Libya."
VICE asked whether or not that moratorium on deportations—the ADR—exists for Yemen, which is currently facing a civil war and an invasion from neighbouring countries. CBSA responded by sending a list of every country for which there is an ADR in place.
"The CBSA currently has an ADR on: certain regions in Somalia (Middle Shabelle, Afgoye, and Mogadishu: since December 9, 2011); the Gaza Strip (since November 27, 2012); Syria (since March 15, 2012); Mali (since January 31, 2013); the Central African Republic (since June 19, 2014); and South Sudan (since November 4, 2014)," a spokesperson wrote.
The CBSA confirmed that four Yemen nationals were deported in 2014.
An ADR, however, is not absolute.
"To ensure the safety and security of Canadians, an ADR does not apply to individuals who pose a security threat to Canada, are criminals, or have been convicted of war crimes or crimes against humanity," the spokesperson said.
That means a criminal conviction—any criminal conviction—could get you sent back to a war zone. That conviction doesn't even have to be under Canadian law—one Toronto business-owner was deported over a 20-year-old conviction he received in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which he claims was politically motivated.
Even those who are currently saved from being sent back could be returned at any time.
"The CBSA will continue to monitor the situation in Libya and once conditions improve, a decision will be made on whether all removals can be reinstated," the spokesperson acknowledged.
The ADR does not appear on any government site, and hasn't been communicated in any formal way.
Individuals up for deportation can appeal the decision on humanitarian or compassionate grounds, which usually take into account personal factors about the individual—whether they have health issues, whether they have young children, whether they will be a target for violence if they are returned to their home country.
Janet Dench, Executive Director at the Canadian Council for Refugees, says the former process preferred by the government—a Temporary Suspension of Removals (TSR)—was openly communicated.
She says the new practise is "TSR-lite," and that it could be confusing for those who still face deportation orders despite the removal moratorium being in place. It's like a "hologram," she says.
Dench says it can be particularly tricky because as long as a moratorium is place, most on the list can get work permits, but can't apply for permanent residency. Their situation then becomes a sort of "limbo," as their deportation orders could be reactivated at any time.
There is a more stringent ban on deporting individuals back to three countries: Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Even in those cases, a criminal conviction could result in deportation.
"Canada removes to all countries," the spokesperson told VICE. "Remove" is government parlance for "deport."
As the Toronto Star reported last year, Canada aggressively sends foreign nationals back home, even if "home" is a failed state.
Their numbers show that 131 individuals were deported to Libya between June 2004 and June 2014.
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