Authored by the CACAP Advocacy Committee (J. McLennan, A. Brouwer, N. Singhal, I. Mian, J. Guzder, M. Jericho, A. Gajaria, L. Anang, J. Gibson, S. Abidi, J. Wittenberg, J. Davidson, R. Rasasingham)
Forcible and prolonged removal of a parent from their child can substantially increase the risk for adverse child mental health outcomes. Such an action should only be considered when the risk to the child is greater if such removal did not occur, or when society is at high risk from the given parent.
However, the Canadian government sanctions such action in the absence of these exceptions. This can occur when the Canada Border Service Agency, under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, removes a parent who is a foreign national (or permanent resident) when deemed inadmissible to Canada, even when there is no risk to their Canadian child or to Canadian society. Recent examples of this occurring have been reported by CBC including an ongoing case of deportation of a mother of three young Canadian children and a previous case that resulted in a four-year separation of a mother from her two Canadian children1.
Whereas it is acknowledged that the Canada Border Service Agency has a general legal obligation to remove foreign nationals and permanent residents who are inadmissible to Canada, that obligation is subject to certain constraints, including those imposed by the constitution and international law. Article 3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Canada is a party, requires that the best interests of the child be a primary consideration in all government actions concerning children. Furthermore, the best interests of the child are specifically noted under the section on humanitarian and compassionate grounds within the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
The Canadian Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (CACAP) notes that the best interests of the child are almost always served by the parent NOT being removed. Furthermore, the mental health needs and rights of the child should supersede other state obligations except in situations in which there are specific and significant risks to the child and/or society if a deportation did not occur.
CACAP further argues that if there is an exception, then the compelling reasons to justify the child being placed at risk by the deportation should be clearly documented with opportunity for review and appeal. Furthermore, CACAP contends that a rationalization that the Canadian child could “simply” leave with the deported parent to prevent a separation is not adequate to circumvent consideration of the best interests of the child, as it may allow the Canadian government to abdicate its responsibility to ensure the child’s Canadian citizenship rights are fully realized and that the child’s well-being is not endangered in the country of deportation.
CACAP strongly urges the Canadian government to consistently prioritize the best interests of the child when deportation involving a parent of a Canadian child is being considered, to prevent the risk of serious and long-term mental health harm to more Canadian children. We further urge the government of Canada to enshrine in law and policy the best interests of the child as a sufficient basis for staying the removal of a parent, independent of whether all legal avenues have been pursued and exhausted by the parent(s).
Furthermore, we caution that delay in action should not be justified on the grounds that the immigration and refugee system in Canada is currently overburdened with other demands as Canadian children should not have to suffer mental health consequences of inadequate resource provision and planning for this system.