Conservative MP uses campaign flyer to spread falsehoods about ‘fake refugees’

Fighting Disinformation: Misleading claims in campaign ads

When Theresa Harrington opened her mailbox last Friday, she was outraged.

Conservative candidate Bob Saroya had sent her and other voters in the Markham-Unionville riding a campaign flyer that began with the headline “Bob Saroya and the Conservative Party’s plan to get Canada back on track.”

Just 0.3% of irregular migrants in Canada found to have serious criminal past

The flyer laid out in broad terms the Conservatives’ plan for reshaping Canada’s asylum system.

But it also contained several false or misleading statements, including:

  • That irregular border crossers are “fake refugees” and “illegal”
  • That nearly half of irregular border crossers have criminal records
  • That 90 per cent of irregular border crossers have their request to stay denied

WATCH: Rising rhetoric around refugees is fuelling many falsehoods about these new arrivals.

“Illegal border crossings”

The flyer uses the term “illegal border crossings” in bold, capitalized letters — but people who cross anywhere along the border in order to make an asylum claim are not breaking the law.

Campaign flyer sent by Conservative candidate Bob Saroya to voters.

Campaign flyer sent by Conservative candidate Bob Saroya to voters.

Under both Canadian and international law, would-be refugees are allowed to make asylum claims in Canada no matter how they enter the country.

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Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act also states that a person who crosses the border between official ports of entry to make an asylum claim cannot be prosecuted in connection to their border crossing.

“Nearly half of recent illegal border crossers have criminal records”

Saroya’s flyer also quotes an April 2017 CBC article, saying: “Nearly half of recent illegal border crossers have criminal records, CBSA union says.”

That claim has since been debunked.

In September, Global News reported that just 0.3 per cent of irregular border crossers who entered Canada since the spring of 2017 were found to have a serious criminal record.

The CBC has also reported that Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officials have testified before Parliament that fewer than one per cent of irregular migrants were identified as serious criminals, meaning they committed or were convicted of a crime punishable by at least 10 years in prison.

Campaign flyer sent by Conservative candidate Bob Saroya to voters.

Campaign flyer sent by Conservative candidate Bob Saroya to voters.

During an interview with Global News, Jean-Pierre Fortin, head of the union that represents CBSA front-line officers and the person who made the claim in the original CBC article, said his comments were “blown out of proportion” and “spun” by certain members of the media.

Fortin told Global News that when he claimed half of all irregular border crossers had a serious criminal past, he was referring to a very specific period of time and to just three people.

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Roughly one week after Fortin’s claim was originally published without providing the specific number of people detained, the CBC posted a separate story that said just three of 135 people who had crossed the border irregularly in the weeks leading up to its original report were detained because of a serious threat.

However, the CBC did not update its original reporting with this new information until nearly two and a half years later and only after the Global News story was published in September.

The CBC broadcast story featuring the headline contained in Saroya’s flyer remains online, unchanged.

“90% … will see their application to stay fail”

Saroya’s flyer also contained a claim, published by the CBC in May 2018, that senior government ministers expected “close to 90 per cent of those who crossed the border at unofficial ports of entry will see their application to stay fail.”

But numerous articles published since — including some recently posted by the CBC and Global News — show that the actual acceptance rate for asylum claims made by irregular border crossers is roughly 50 per cent — not 10 per cent, as Saroya’s flyer implies.

This information is also publicly available on the website of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board or upon request.

Saroya’s response

Global News spoke with Saroya on Wednesday at his campaign office. He said the claims contained in the flyer were taken directly from CBC articles and that he was relying on them for accuracy.

Still, he acknowledged that if the information contained in the older reports is inaccurate or untrue, this is a problem. He said his campaign team will look into it and make corrections to the flyer if necessary.

Saroya also said that for him — and for many voters he’s talked with — one criminal entering Canada is too many.

“We are reporting what you guys are reporting,” Saroya said, referring to the CBC articles. “Whatever the number is, one wrong person is one wrong person.”

WATCH: Ex-minister under Hussein made refugee claim in Canada

Regarding the statement that 90 per cent of irregular border crossers’ claims would be denied, Saroya insisted he was repeating what Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Ralph Goodale had said in the House of Commons about refugees.

But Scott Bardsley, a spokesperson for Goodale, said Goodale did not make these remarks — either in or outside of the House.

Bardsley did, however, say that Transport Minister Marc Garneau made this misleading comment about 90 per cent of claims being rejected during a press conference in May 2018.

But Bardsley added that these remarks were clarified by the government to indicate that Garneau was referring to claims made in the past, by Haitians.

These remarks were not referring to irregular border crossers in general, Bardsley said.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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