Many people illegally crossing into Canada were fed wrong information about asylum system
Amid the federal government’s assurances it has everything under control at the Canada-U.S. border, where thousands of would-be refugees are crossing over in droves, is an aggressive campaign to combat one element seen to be behind the most recent wave: the viral spread of potentially deliberately misleading information about Canada’s refugee and asylum systems.
The Liberal government has said it is aware of misinformation spreading via instant messaging apps like WhatsApp and through other social media platforms.
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Much of the misinformation has targeted the Haitian population living in the United States with “temporary protected status” granted to more than 50,000 Haitians, primarily in the wake of 2010 earthquake that killed an estimated 222,570, injured another 300,000 and displaced almost 100,000.
With that status likely to expire without renewal in mere months, however, many have packed their bags, made their way to Champlain, N.Y., and walked across to Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que. – seemingly, according to the Canadian government, encouraged by false information.
“The misinformation that Haitians in the United States, for example, could get permanent residency easily in Canada if they have temporary protected status in the United States. That’s completely untrue,” Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said in an interview with Global News.
“Those [are the] kinds of myths we’re working really hard to dispel, and we’re engaging all available means to attack that misinformation.”
Videos on YouTube are also spreading misinformation about Canada’s system.
How to get a ‘Canadian green card’
One, published Aug. 1 by user TiFi Pasté-a, extolls Canada as a safe and relatively easy place for any person in the U.S. – Haitian or otherwise, living there legally or otherwise – to move.
The agreement, which has been in effect since December 2004, exists to force would-be refugees to make their claim in the first country in which they land. So technically, the law prevents people from making an asylum claim in Canada if they’ve been in the United States.
There is an exception that focuses on keeping families together. However, what Pasté-a fails to mention is the family member in question must have a certain status and/or be of a certain age.
What’s more, she says Canada will offer second chances to anyone whose asylum claim is denied.
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She tells her 4,000 subscribers that, if they make an asylum claim but are denied, they can “apply for humanitarian [grounds]” if they are working, paying taxes, going to church and volunteering.
“When you go back to court, as long as you [are] a model citizen, Canada will grant you your green card,” she says before offering, for a fee, the services of Canadian lawyers she claims to have access to.
In a recent interview with Vice News, Pasté-a invites anyone noticing incorrect information in her video to let her know.
Spreading false information
In mid-June, shortly before Haitians started crossing the border in droves, Pasté-a published another video.
This one was of a Canadian lawyer speaking to a Haitian community in New Jersey, in which the lawyer explained elements of the Canadian immigration system and different programs within it. She spoke at length about how skills, education, knowledge of the official languages and work experience increase the chances of having an application accepted.
On YouTube, however, the lawyer was misrepresented as an official representative of Canada, and that video has been reported as the basis for a widely shared WhatsApp message saying Canada “invited and even encouraged” all Haitians to apply for residency in Canada.
Open arms – for orderly migration
As a result of the misinformed videos, texts and other messages going around, the Canadian government has pushed to correct the record.
In one social media post, Citizenship and Immigration Canada wrote that last year the country rejected half of all asylum claims from Haitian nationals, forcing those applicants to leave the country.
Another message makes an attempt to dispel the notion that crossing the border illegally – that is to say crossing anywhere that’s not an established point – is a ticket to the immigration fast-track.
And yet another instructs people to learn about Canada’s asylum system rather than believe or pass around misinformation.
On Facebook this month, the department was blunt: “The government of Canada discourages people from entering Canada outside of designated ports of entry, as it can be dangerous and is a violation of the law,” a post read in part.
“Stringent processes are in place for all those seeking refugee protection, regardless of how they enter Canada.”
The government has also moved beyond the internet, sending Haitian-born Liberal MP Emanuel Dubourg to Miami, Fla., to speak with Haitian and U.S. media, and to meet with members of the Haitian diaspora.
WATCH: Canada is welcoming, but also wants ‘orderly’ migration: immigration minister
In the meantime, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has said the government will be investigating the sources of misinformation it believes to be a “push factor” helping drive the influx of asylum seekers.
And despite the aggressive push to correct the record, Canada’s immigration minister insists the country remains warm and welcoming.
“We are a welcoming country, but we do so in an orderly manner,” Hussen said in an interview. “You can be welcoming as a country – and we are – while being committed to orderly migration and making sure we maintain the integrity of the system.”
© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.