OTTAWA – The emergence of an RCMP questionnaire targeting Muslim asylum seekers in Quebec sparked criticism Thursday that the Liberal government mismanaged last summer’s massive flow of migrants from the United States.
The questionnaire was used at the Quebec border crossing that saw an influx of thousands of asylum seekers from the U.S., many of them of Haitian descent who were concerned about the Trump administration’s decision to cancel a program that allowed them to stay in the country.
Among other things, the questionnaire asked opinions about religious practice, head coverings associated with Muslim women and terrorist groups with mainly Muslim members.
Toronto immigration lawyer Clifford McCarten said he obtained a copy of the document from a client seeking refugee status, who had been given the three-page, 41-question document by mistake.
“He was shocked by the questions,” said McCarten, who provided a copy to The Canadian Press.
The man was originally from a Muslim country, he added.
“Canada is a very liberal country that believes in freedom of religious practice and equality between men and women. What is your opinion of this subject? How would you feel if your boss was a woman? How do you feel about women who do not wear the hijab?” says the questionnaire, which also asked the same question about other head and body coverings, including the dupatta, niqab, chador and burka.
A spokesman for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said the government found out on Tuesday about the existence of the questionnaire from a “stakeholder” who takes an interest in the work of the department.
Public Safety Spokesman Scott Bardsley said the department was immediately concerned and the document is no longer being used by the RCMP.
“Some of the questions were inappropriate and inconsistent with government policy,” Bardsley said in an emailed statement.
Bardsley said the document was only used “locally,” but would not say whether there would be repercussions for any of the Mounties involved in its creation.
He referred those questions to the RCMP, but a spokeswoman said Thursday the Mounties would not be granting interviews on the topic. In a written statement, the RCMP said the “interview guide” was used by its Quebec C Division and “has been revised to better evaluate individuals coming into the country whose origin is unknown, while being respectful of their situations.”
McCarten said the existence of the document raises questions about the federal government’s competence in managing the sudden surge of arrivals from the U.S.
“If, in fact, this was a local detachment making this decision — which I find a bit hard to believe — then it’s deeply concerning that one of the most, if not the most problematic crisis spot in Canadian immigration and refugee policy right now . . . doesn’t have a federal strategy for how screening is happening.”
The New Democrats said the government needed to show more leadership in dealing with the influx of asylum seekers.
“Canadians need to be assured that security measures are in place, but this looks more like religious profiling,” Matthew Dube, the NDP public safety critic said in a statement.
“Either the minister was aware this was taking place and did nothing or he doesn’t have a handle on what practices are being used.”
Jenny Kwan, the NDP immigration critic, said the government needs to provide more answers on how the questionnaire was used.
“The number of times someone prays should have no bearing on their refugee status. That is not who we are,” she said.
Other questions asked the applicants to specify their religion and “how often” they practice their religion.
McCarten said the RCMP needs to conduct security screening, but the questions being asked don’t cover all potential threats to Canada.
“It appears to instruct RCMP officers to be asking questions to the exclusion of other types of concerns, specifically the right-wing, white supremacist violence happening in the U.S. and that we have a history of in Canada,” he said.
“It asks questions that are discriminatory, that reflect a kind of institutional bias and an institutional ignorance of the RCMP of the nature of risk.”
He said asking a Muslim their opinion of head coverings is “absurd” and akin to “asking a Jewish person what their opinions are about men who don’t wear the yarmulke.”
McCarten said the document reflects on the RCMP as a whole, and shows “a kind of Islamaphobic bias that is animating how it does its business.”