Trigger Warnings: Islamophobia, white supremacy, violence, torture
On January 29th, 2022, the fifth anniversary of the Quebec City mosque attack, people gathered in Vancouver and around Canada to protest the continued blatant Islamophobia and racism within the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). Five families in Metro Vancouver are being threatened with potential deportation based on their political ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and alleged discrimination by the CBSA.
The Arab Spring is the name given to a wave of protests across the Middle East and North Africa which began in Tunisia in December 2010, when a young fruit vendor, Mohammed Bouazizi, set himself on fire in protest and out of inexplicable frustration with the state. Protests erupted across the region in Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Yemen, and Syria; unprecedented amounts of people were on the streets challenging the status quo and demanding change.
In Egypt, January 25th remains a key date to many, when protestors gathered in Tahrir Square in Cairo and elsewhere throughout the country. They were calling for the end of Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule and on February 11th, 2011, he resigned and handed over control to the military. Elections were held in 2012 and after the second round of voting, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohamed Morsi, won, beating out his opponent who had been Mubarak’s last prime minister. The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in Egypt in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, based on a vision of an Islamic system of governance that would be adopted through promoting Islamic values as well as providing social services. Today, the Brotherhood’s ideology is widespread but they remain committed to reforming the political systems which exist in the Arab world, through political activism and social responsibility. Critically, many who voted for Morsi did so more as a rejection of Mubarak-era influence rather than out of endearment for Morsi. Not even a year into Morsi’s presidency, people took to the streets yet again protesting Morsi’s decisions as some saw him as divisive and loyal only to the Brotherhood, not the people.
In 2013, then army chief, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, launched a military coup to remove Morsi from power. Though he too promised change, Sisi’s electoral victory in 2014 only served to strengthen the military’s hold over political power. Today, the military “is now immune from any oversight or accountability by parliament or any other state institution.” Sisi has deserted any chance at a democratic transition and is ruling Egypt with an iron fist, assuming full control and blocking chances for rule of law or accountability.
Additionally, there has been a violent crackdown on opposition including “wide-scale arrests, unjust prosecutions, torture, and extrajudicial killings,” with the Muslim Brotherhood being named as a terrorist organisation. Sisi’s campaign was called a “ruthless bid to crush dissent” by Amnesty International in 2015; while it initially targeted Muslim Brotherhood members, it soon stretched out to include youth activists and the entire political spectrum, including leftists and secularists. Ultimately, the importance of the military establishment did not diminish after the revolution and if anything it made Mubarak’s legacy of authoritarianism remain strongly intact.
Discrimination in the CBSA
At the protest in Vancouver, organised by the Egyptian Canadian Coalition for Democracy, a good crowd gathered in front of the CBSA office downtown and heard from several speakers. They gathered to protest the long-standing pattern of discrimination, including Islamophobia and anti-Arab sentiment, which exists within the CBSA, and the threat of deportation faced by five Egyptian families in Metro Vancouver because of their political associations. In a report released in 2020, the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) mentioned that a “CBC access-to-information request revealed over 500 allegations of misconduct by CBSA officers filed between 2018-2019.” This information was collected to urge Parliament to introduce legislation for external oversight of the CBSA, as currently there is none, which has allowed profiling to occur with little to no consequences. The NCCM clarified that “none of [their] suggested policy suggestions hamper the ability of CBSA agents to ensure border security. Rather, they simply ensure that racial discrimination is not active on the border.” The federal Liberal party has tried twice to pass legislation that would “make the CBSA subject to the same civilian complaints process that applies to the RCMP” but both times, it did not pass.
One of the speakers at the recent protest pointed out that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had, during the National Summit on Islamophobia in 2021, said that institutions “… should support people, not target them.” And yet, explained the speaker, “these five families continue to fight for their lives in the face of deportation to Egypt because the CBSA in Vancouver have taken a position that is inconsistent and against the position of the government of Canada.” Additionally, a member of the UBC Social Justice Centre expressed that “it is frustrating to see Canada continue to use symbolic gestures of support … while continuing to reinforce Islamophobia within the government’s systems.”
Attia Elserfy, one of the men facing possible deportation, told his story in Arabic which was then translated by a volunteer. Elserfy came to Canada from Egypt in 2018 with his wife and three of his children (two are still in Turkey) seeking protection as he had been a leader in a labour union and had joined the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), which made him a target when Sisi came to power. None of the family members papers’ were being processed at the same time, and his three children with him in Canada – one of whom is a minor – may lose their right of protection and face deportation to Egypt. He accused the CBSA of considering him inadmissible because of bias and Islamophobia, citing that over the past 6 years the CBSA has accepted 2,600 Egyptian refugees and yet his family is in danger, and his underage child was denied his mothers presence during a hearing, because of the discretion of a CBSA officer. Additionally, he alleged that the CBSA has spread fear by accusing many well-respected Muslim community organisations with terrorism and “presenting evidence and justifications that [do] not reflect the … government such as … referring to the military coup in Egypt as a revolution and justifying the mass murders of the current military regime in Egypt.”
Elserfy’s son, who is just 14 years old, spoke to the horrors of his family’s reality;
“The CBSA has been tearing our family apart for the past three years. I live in constant fear of losing my parents and I have no idea what the future [will] be like for our family … the CBSA is trying to appeal the positive refugee decision that my sisters and I received two years ago, in order to deport us back to Egypt … After the judge approved my mother’s attendance [at his hearing], he has used ways to delay our decision for 7 months … I just want to be a family again, I just want to start a new life. Canada was supposed to be a new start for us, but instead it has been a nightmare.”
Abdelrahman Elmady also spoke. A husband and father of two, his family has been in Egypt for the years he has been gone since seeking asylum in Vancouver in 2017 on the basis of persecution by Egypt’s military government as he was also a member of the FJP. “I fled from Egypt from persecution and instead I was persecuted by the CBSA,” Elmady said, “CBSA has breached my solicitor-client privilege, held me in detention despite my hearing disability and passed information to the Egyptian government and put my family in danger.” While in detention at a correctional facility, Elmady’s hearing aid batteries were not replaced for a week by the officers, proving neglect on their part. Additionally, Elmady, like Elserfy, accuse the CBSA of spreading fear by inaccurately painting the Muslim Brotherhood and the FJP “as [a] terrorist organisation, and [Elmady] as a national security threat” despite them not being listed as such by the Canadian government or any Western country, for that matter. Elmady concluded by stressing that “because the CBSA has no oversight they have been able to do all of this with no consequence … I hope to be reunited with my wife and boys and Canada lives up to the true meaning of its values and what it stands for.”
The protest called mainly for immediate action on these families’ cases and a demand for oversight for the CBSA, so as to bring in consequences for discrimination and hopefully, an end to it. The actions of the CBSA are having direct, dangerous, and even deadly consequences on individuals and families who have come to Canada seeking protection. It is clear that the CBSA having oversight is the bare minimum but the first step to halting dangerous discrimination by the CBSA against refugees and others.
Take Action & More Information
- Contact Representatives: https://speakupforchange.ca/campaign/StopCBSAVancouverRefugeeCrisis?fbclid=IwAR124MmrCLIM63U3k0NeV0mAY9C3-sSVKlTFW7X4VYohEcfuyVlZx1A9ki4
- Family of asylum seeker intimidated after Canada official contacts Egypt regime, Middle East Monitor, May 20 2021: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20210520-family-of-asylum-seeker-intimidated-after-canada-official-contacts-egypt-regime/?fbclid=IwAR00iN_9EK0z9sB71GfsubCAF06XeLIlNqTUtpIDqfUubTQGboif9pLGeGE
- Activist’s deportation case adds to increased calls for oversight of border services, CBC News, April 8 2021: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/deportation-vancouver-1.5978332
- Lawyers for Egyptian asylum-seeker facing deportation call for increased oversight of CBSA, May 19 2021: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-lawyers-for-egyptian-asylum-seeker-facing-deportation-call-for/
- Egypt: Generation of young activists imprisoned in ruthless bid to crush dissent, Amnesty International. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2015/06/egypt-generation-of-young-activists-imprisoned-in-ruthless-bid-to-crush-dissent/
- The Square Official Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6eWBmVprInQ
- Full documentary available on YouTube in Arabic with multiple subtitle options