Charges dropped against refugee advocate

  • January 8, 2010
{mosimage}Charges against an American refugee advocate for bringing 12 Haitians to the U.S.-Quebec border where they claimed refugee status were quietly dropped in November.

Janet Hinshaw-Thomas — founder of Prime — Ecumenical Commitment to Refugees in Pennsylvania and niece of the late theologian Cardinal Avery Dulles — was arrested in Lacolle, Que., Sept. 28, 2007. She had called ahead to say she was bringing 12 Haitian asylum-seekers. She had often brought refugees to Canadian border posts to file for refugee status.

People-smuggling charges against Hinshaw-Thomas, a 65-year-old grandmother, shocked Canadian and American refugee advocates, who had previously been assured that Canada’s laws against human trafficking were not aimed at legitimate refugee work.

Hinshaw-Thomas was charged under Section 117 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act which makes it a crime to “organize, induce, aid or abet” entry into Canada by those who have neither a passport nor a visa. She was held in jail overnight.

When the revised immigration law was passed in 2001 the Canadian government repeatedly stated that the law was aimed at human traffickers, not refugees or their advocates.

In the days following Hinshaw-Thomas’s arrest Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day denied any political agenda behind the sudden change in how Section 117 was applied.

“There’s no political interference. Law enforcement people apply the laws,” said Day’s staff.

Applying section 117 to refugees makes no sense, said Romero House founder Mary Jo Leddy in Toronto.

“Refugees, by definition, don’t always arrive with perfect papers. If they did, would they be refugees?” she asked.

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