Columns

Canada: too easy to scam

Diane Francis May 31 1999
Columns

Canada: too easy to scam

Diane Francis May 31 1999

Canada: too easy to scam

Diane Francis

It’s dusk and the policeman drives me up and down the streets and back alleys of Vancouver’s skid row in the city’s east end. Here, he says, scores of fake refugees control the city’s drug trade, ruining Canadian lives with narcotics that are more affordable, and more addictive, than ever. For two hours we drive around, observing the scene. In an alley, a man picks through a Dumpster behind a restaurant. There is litter everywhere. Old sleeping bags, towels, pieces of clothing. Small bottles of bleach, used by addicts to disinfect their needles, sit on doorsteps. Still, the neighbourhood is afflicted by one of the country’s highest incidences of AIDS.

Down another alley in a recessed door sits an emaciated young man wearing a tuque. His eyes look like a raccoon’s, with dark circles. His mouth is pursed. He shakes and bobs his head. “Stay awake, OK?” shouts my officer-host. “He’s cranked up, high on crack. He’s just a kid, but he’s like most of them around here. He’s already dead. He just doesn’t know it yet.”

A member of the drug squad, the policeman does not go public for fear of losing his job, but he wants Canadians to know how the refugee and immigration system fails to protect our society. He says that hundreds of Honduran teenagers have come here, making false claims as “refugees” and getting away with it. They are brought in by the Colombian drug cartels and work off their “debt” by peddling narcotics. Their gangster masters are in Canada, too, as refugees. “In two years, the Hispanics who are all here under the refugee program have taken over the crack business,” explains the policeman. “Crack is the drug of choice. The high is so intense that people are hooked right from the start. Five years ago, the Vancouver city police found it hard to find a rock of crack. Not any more. It’s everywhere. The Hispanics are putting more and more pure stuff on the street.”

Heroin is the same story. “It’s only $10 to $15 for a hit of heroin these days, the supply’s so great,” he says. “Kids are smoking heroin in high schools. It’s as easy to get heroin now as it is to order a pizza. In no time, they may have a $300to $500-a-day habit. How do they pay for it? Prostitution, crime or by dealing drugs themselves, spreading the addiction to others. The misery is exponential.”

The Honduran drug dealers all wear a “uniform”— baggy designer jeans, Nike runners, slinky soccer shirts and gold chains. They work in shifts and in pairs. One negotiates. The other, often only 10 or 11 years of age, carries “spitballs” or plastic sacks of crack in his mouth. The young men are victims, too. Last September, an 11-year-old Honduran refugee accidentally swallowed his spitballs when chased by police and nearly died of an overdose.

They are recruited from the slums of Honduras with news-

paper advertisements that boast, “Come to Canada and make big money.” Once here, the young men are coached on how to apply as refugees, get welfare and do business. “It’s easy,” says the police officer. “You come in [as a visitor, with or without a visa, by plane, car or illegally] and go to the immigration office to make a claim to stay as a refugee. You have no documents. So you are sent to a clerk who types out a 1442 immigration document, called Notice to Seek Refugee Claim. You tell the clerk your name. She types it. You make up your date of birth, country of origin, occupation, bio. She types it all in. She calls a commissionaire, and he takes you and your 1442 to another place to take your fingerprints. You walk out as a fictitious character.

“Next stop is Employment Canada. The 1442 is presented and the clerk there issues a social insurance number card. With that piece of identification, a provincial ID card can be obtained, entitling holders to welfare, health care and any other benefits, such as emergency loans for housing purposes and so on. In hours, you have created a new identity.”

Most of these boys and young men live Dickensian lives as drug-dealing Oliver Twists who are enslaved to the cocaine cartels’ dangerous and demanding Fagans. In a recent raid, there were 30 boys living in a tiny apartment. Most eventually get hooked on the lifestyle of a drug dealer. Some end up getting hooked on the drugs themselves.

Official figures show that in 1998 some 284 Hondurans were given refugee status in Vancouver compared with 132 the year before. And in two recent drug sweeps, more than half of the 139 drug dealers arrested were refugee claimants, and police said most came from Honduras. But official figures may not tell the full story. Many may not have even bothered to apply for refugee status. The Hondurans first emerged in California and Oregon where an intense crackdown led to the deportation of 7,000 last year. This drove an unknown number to British Columbia and other parts of Canada.

To stop this, the policeman advocates that anyone claiming refugee status should be interviewed by an experienced immigration investigator. If the claimant has no documentation and comes from a safe country, he should be sent back. He should not be released and given a date to show up for a refugee hearing because he won’t. The policeman adds: “How can you be a Honduran refugee, for instance? There’s no reason to grant refugee status. Honduras, apart from the hurricanes, is not a country where lives are in danger.”

Canada, the officer says, is being turned into a “waste basket,” and the cost in human lives, tax dollars and policing is skyrocketing. “It’s so easy to scam Canada. I want Canadians to realize this.”