Multiple refugee claimants have been found in possession of child pornography at or near the Quebec border crossing where an influx of hundreds of asylum seekers crossing from New York state has led the Canadian government to set up a border camp, Global News has learned.
In a memorandum to officers of the Canadian Border Services Agency this week, acting CBSA assistant director Daniel St-Arnaud outlines a set of guidelines for officers at and near the St-Bernard-de-Lacolle crossing to deal with the illicit material. The guidelines will “come into effect immediately” and remain until national guidelines are put in place.
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According to a source, officials in St-Bernard-de-Lacolle have in recent months found “four or five” refugee claimants from Haiti in possession of child pornography, which prompted the memorandum.
A spokesperson for Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Ralph Goodale confirmed two cases have resulted in criminal proceedings. “We can confirm that, following an investigation, two people have been charged by the Quebec Direction des Poursuites Criminelles et Pénales with possession and importation of child pornography,” said Dan Brien. “The matter remains under adjudication.”
Brien said the CBSA maintains “rigorous security measures,” and said of the charges, “This is an indication of the security system that is in place and that it is working well.”
Last week, the Canadian government deployed soldiers to set up tents near St-Bernard-de-Lacolle, which sits across the border from Champlain, New York, in order to temporarily house hundreds of asylum seekers, most of which are Haitians who fear deportation by the United States government. The city of Montreal, which is 60 kilometres from the border point, last week said it is receiving between 250 and 300 asylum claimants who crossed the Canada-U.S. border every day — the number is up from 50 per day in the first half of July.
The CBSA document advises officers at legal border crossings that “if child pornography or any other prohibited material is found” to notify the CBSA’s Intelligence Division, which will contact either the CBSA Criminal Investigation unit or Quebec’s provincial police force, the Sûreté du Québec, “to assess whether there are sufficient grounds to initiate an investigation.”
An investigation by the CBSA or SQ could determine there are grounds to lay criminal charges, which would also result in a refugee claimant’s file to be put on hold for the duration of criminal proceedings.
Earlier this year, in February, New York police arrested Benz K. Benoit, a 36-year old Haitian national, after the CBSA held him in custody on suspicions he was in possession of child pornography. After being returned to U.S. authorities, he was charged with one count of promoting an obscene sexual performance by a child and one count of possessing an obscene sexual performance by a child.
In cases where child pornography is found in the possession of claimants who cross illegally between border points, the CBSA document says the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has jurisdiction to investigate, or to transfer the case to the SQ, both of which could also lead to criminal charges and the claimant’s asylum file being put on hold during criminal proceedings.
However, according to the document, in cases where the RCMP seizes child pornography from an asylum keeper but decides not to lay charges “the CBSA must accept that decision” and process their claim.
“The fact that this document leaves some ambiguity as to what happens to an asylum claim if the RCMP seizes child pornography but doesn’t press forward with an investigation is something I think a lot of Canadians would take issue with,” said Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel, in an interview with Global News.
Rempel said the border arrests comprised one part of broader concerns that the opposition has about the government’s management of Canada’s refugee system. Earlier this month, Global News reported on a CBSA document which suggested that Somalis with criminal records, who fear being deported by the US, have been crossing illegally into Canada near the Emerson, Manitoba border.
“This is a troubling pattern where we’re seeing people with criminal records or involved in criminal activity come across the border,” added Rempel. “I think that Justin Trudeau has been irresponsible in his language around how Canada’s asylum system should be accessed. I think he needs to be much more clear that you shouldn’t be entering Canada illegally and he should be more clear about the expectations that our system has in terms of legitimate claims so that our asylum system can be focused on helping the world’s most vulnerable.”