'Inappropriate' RCMP questionnaire probed asylum seekers on prayer habits, hijab
An RCMP interview guide used to screen asylum seekers on their prayer habits and views on women who don't wear the hijab was "inappropriate and inconsistent with government policy," a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says.
The three-page form, obtained by CBC News, asked people who were trying to cross the Quebec-U.S. border on Roxham Road, a busy crossing east of Hemmingford, Que., for details on their work history, whether they had a criminal record and what motivated their decision to leave the United States.
It also asked for their views on women bosses, terrorist attacks and Islamic State.
Muslims, in particular, appear to be targeted, as no other religion is mentioned in the questionnaire.
Spokesperson Scott Bardsley said the RCMP has suspended the use of that version of the interview guide, which was only deployed at Roxham Road.
"The minute we became aware of the interview guide, we were immediately concerned and contacted the RCMP," he said in an email on Thursday.
"The RCMP is committed to protecting the safety of Canadians and keeping our borders secure. At the same time, people seeking asylum in Canada must be treated with respect, compassion, and afforded due process under the law."
Roxham Road was the site of a major influx in asylum seekers this summer. Thousands used the road to cross and make a refugee claim in Canada.
The existence of the RCMP guide was first reported by the Toronto Star.
'Preliminary risk assessments'
In an emailed response, RCMP Corp. Annie Delisle said the interview guide was created by a Quebec division of the police service in response to "the high volume of irregular migrants" in order to conduct streamlined "preliminary risk assessments."
The information is kept in an RCMP database, she said, and shared with Canada Border Services Agency and other partners "in accordance with Canadian legislation."
She did not specify what database or the legislation.
The interview guide has since "been revised to better evaluate individuals coming into the country whose origin is unknown, while being respectful of their situations," she said.
'Utterly irrelevant,' lawyer says
Toronto lawyer Clifford McCarten, who obtained a copy of the document after it was mistakenly handed to one of his clients, said it's "entirely appropriate" for Canada Border Services Agency to ask probing questions about criminality and whether border crossers are associated with extremist groups.
But, he said, "I've never seen someone asked how regularly they practise their religion, what their opinion on having a woman as a boss is, or their views of different religious coverings. And the reason I've never seen that is because it's utterly irrelevant, from a legal point of view, to the refugee claims process."
McCarten said he's "shocked to hear that there is no apparent federal oversight about the way that screening was going on" at what has become Canada's busiest processing centre for asylum seekers.
Mitchell Goldberg, president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, said the interview guide "smacks of a values test" like the one proposed by failed Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch.
"You expect the RCMP to be concerned about our security, about Canadians' safety, not asking people questions about their religion and their politics," he told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.
"It's the kind of thing we'd expect on the other side of the border, in the United States."
Samer Majzoub, president of the Canadian Muslim Forum, said authorities shouldn't be targetting asylum seekers because of their religious or cultural background.
"It was very shocking, honestly," he said.
"One of the things that was really surprising was that it was many social questions, not so much security questions."
A copy of the interview guide used by the RCMP on Roxham Road
Don't see the document? Tap here.